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Experiential Learning Cycle: Definition, Examples, and Assessment

Dr. Jay Robert's keynote and workshop at the 2019 Experiential Learning Summit

Dr. Jay Roberts


Can we just do a quick poll, how many of you are teaching faculty that would be how you would identify yourselves. Wonderful. How about administrators of various shapes and sizes. Staff? Any staff in the room? K, did I miss a category yeah, so I think that's a really great testament to how we think about experiential learning in higher education today. That it is, in fact, all of our work. it doesn't just happen in the classroom. Those of us who work or are involved in the co-curriculum know that the work that we do with students outside of the classroom and a variety of different spaces: career education, student life, athletics, etc, that there's a really key learning happening there as well. I’m going to walk around a lot, because that's sort of the way I like to do things, so I’m not going to spend a ton of time behind the lectern here, unless this thing won't let me advance.

Introductions and Overview

I want to start with a story, and it's a story about a playground. Not sure how well you can see that, but it is a pretty pathetic looking playground this is in Richmond, Indiana, my hometown, and the story starts with, we have a senior capstone in our environmental sustainability major and we redesigned it about five or six years ago to for it to be an integrated community research project, and so what we do with our seniors is we bring in community partners and they essentially pitch an idea: here’s something that we need research done on, or here's a project that we need somebody to help us advance in some way, shape, or form. And so I was the faculty member in charge of the senior seminar this particular year, and we got a pitch from somebody from our water district, we got a pitch from a nonprofit organization, and then we got a pitch from the parks and recreation department. And I was sitting there in the room, and our wonderful parks director came and said “you know we really need a new playground in this, in this Clear Creek Park”, and as a faculty member I was sitting there thinking to myself “playground project, you know, really? Is this going to be academically rigorous?” and she's talking about what she was interested, and I was watching the students they're sort of nodding their heads and scribbling more notes than they were when we were talking about the soil and water conservation district project. And in the background I’m just like “Please don’t pick the play ground!” Because they get to choose, right? So this is basically pitched, and they went through and heard all of the different pitches from the different community partners, and they had a big robust discussion at the end of the day they chose the playground project, right. As a faculty member, even though I’m an experiential guy and I was just sort of excited about this, in the back of my head I'm just I'm already like notching up all the things that are not going to work about this particular project, right, like: “How do we do research on playgrounds? Like that's not really I just wasn't I just didn't see it in any way, shape, or form and I think, for me, part of what's really amazing, and it was a little bit about what are our former speaker was just talking about in terms of uncertainty, that a big part of experiential education and experiential learning is this wrestling with uncertainty, with unscriptedness. And there's this wonderful quotation that I wanted to start with here. It’s a long one so bear with me. It’s from Margret Wheatley, and she says:

“No one personal perspective can give us the answers we need the problems today. Paradoxically we can only find those answers is by admitting that we don't know. We have to be willing to let go of our certainty and expect ourselves to be confused for a time. We weren't trained to admit we don't know, most of us were taught to sound certain and confidence to state our opinion as if it were true. We haven’t been rewarded for being confused, or for asking more questions rather than giving quick answers, but the world now is quite perplexing. We no longer live in those sweet slow days when life felt predictable when we actually knew what to do next. We live in a complex world, we often don't know what's going on, and we won't be able to understand its complexity unless we spend more time in not knowing.”

So those themes of unpredictability, uncertainty, ambiguity, complexity. I think we can think about all kinds of things in our current world and how it, I think, aligns itself quite well with this state, and I think our students recognize and see this in many ways as well. So here I was in the seminar classroom living in a state of very much uncertainty and unpredictability about how this project would go, and I'm gonna leave that story for a second and come back to it at the end, as a way hopefully to close, and give us a sense of some, where the arc of this can go from this opening place of uncertainty and ambiguity to a place of real potential transformation. So I’d also like for this to be a little bit workshopy so it's not just me talking at you for the time that we have, and I know that I'm also dealing with the JAMS, does anyone know what the JAMS are, it’s an acronym? Just Ate Must Sleep. So you got a watch it when you're giving talks after lunch so there are cards at you table and, if you would, if you could just jot down on one side of the card three questions that you currently have about experiential learning. Three questions that you currently have about experiential learning. They could be practical questions, theoretical question is critical questions, application questions, but you’re all here for a reason, so just spend a little time and jot down questions that come to your mind.

With your neighbor, if you could share your questions, and then also share a little bit about where and how uncertainty shows up with your students. So if you are in the Co-Curriculum and work with students, where or in what ways does uncertainty manifest itself in your work with students. If you’re in the classroom, where and in what ways does uncertainty manifest itself. So two tasks. The first is to share your questions at your table, and the second is to just talk little bit about where and in what ways uncertainty might show up in your work with students. Have a go.

So, I’ve searched far and wide for a device that enables me to get peoples attention, and I'm here to demonstrate to you the device that I discovered which is this. Works really amazingly well. So there's a pro tip for you, the old time train whistle. We’ll do this a couple different times, so when you hear the train whistle you know that we're wrapping up that that particular part of the discussion. So, where are we going today together, we’re going to spend part one talking about definitions and developments. So part of my research, and what I do, is I going on in higher Ed, particularly in the experiential learning space. I have the opportunity to come and give talks and workshops with faculty at places like BYU, or University of Alabama. Big public institutions, as well, but also a small places.
Last month I was in Terrace British Columbia at Coast Mountain College, a small community college in British Columbia that, just as an example of where you are when you're placed there, I went for a walk before my workshop and I was walking down this path and there was a sign that said: Caution Bear in Area. So I turned around and walked the other way. But I have a chance to be at faith based institutions, R1s, small liberal arts colleges and really think about and talk with faculty, staff, and administrations about this thing “Experiential Learning”, what it is, and where it’s going in terms of the sector.
We’ll take a little bit of time talking about those. What are the basic definitions, what are the developments that we’re seeing across the sector, and I do that not necessarily as an evangelist, right? I'm not here to tell you that what you're doing in the classroom is right or wrong or that, what you're doing in the classroom is right or wrong, or that what you're doing when you’re working with students outside of the classroom is right or wrong. I just sort of want to give you a scan , and I think what’s great about this particular summit is we're going to go this way today and then you're going to have the opportunity in the workshops to dive a little bit deeper into some of the various methodologies and understand them a little bit better. So, but just a start I just really want to put out there that I think experiential learning is a particularly effective strategy, and it's particularly relevant for this moment. We’ll talk a little bit about that why, but I'm not particularly interested in making grand declarations about “this is the best way to teach”, “this is the only way to teach”, etc. I just don’t find those to be particularly useful. When you see me in the classroom, you’ll see me in a range of modalities, some of which are what I would call direct instruction, like what I'm doing right now, some of which is team-based, some of which is our is more project-based etc. So anyway, definitions and developments some, chance for you all and in tables to do some reflecting on that part two will sort of shift to talking more specifically about this pedagogy for uncertainty, what specifically looks like within the higher Ed context more opportunity for reflection and then will leave sometime at the end for some question and answer and discussion. Ok, here we go.

Definitions and Development

What is this thing called “experiential education”? We’re gonna do a pop quiz. It’s a hundred percent of your final grade, so I hope you’re ready for that. Number two pencils at the ready, here we go:

Is it experiential learning?

  • A basketball coach has students run an offense versus defense scrimmage.
  • A student volunteers at the local pantry.
  • A chemistry lab.
  • English students roleplaying a scene from a novel.
  • A “study tour” trip to France.
  • A computer based game or simulation to learn or practice classroom content.
  • A student produced play or drama production.
  • Small group discussions in class.
  • An internship.
  • A student initiated research project.

    What say you, BYU? Experiential learning? Five out of ten? Ten out of ten? Zero out of ten? We have a ten out of ten! We have all of them! Some people say it depends. Right? So, what’s going on with this? We could make this vacuous claim that all learning is experienced based.
    So, really, what are we even saying when we use…word[s] like experiential learning or experiential education, and you can see a little bit of that in here. Right, we go through life and we have a series of experiences. We had an experience driving to work today. I had an experience yesterday fishing. Is John in the audience? He took me fishing yesterday, it was amazing. But, interestingly, I left my dress shoes in his car to change into my wading boots, and we drove separate directions, and I had to call him on my phone and say “John, I need my dress shoes or I’m presenting tomorrow in fly-fishing gear” so he was nice enough to bring my shoes back.

    So, of course, this brings us to what many of you are probably familiar with. This was David Coles’ popularized experiential learning circle. He took a lot of what John Dewey was talking about in the early 1900s. He talked about the difference between primary and secondary experience, and he put it into an easily digestible model. The basic model is that you have some sort of concrete experience: doing/having an experience in some way. You reflect on that experience. You then have abstract conceptualization on it: your concluding, you're learning from it in some way, shape, or form, and then you actively experiment on that with new context. This is the classic experiential learning cycle. Then, you can apply that to our list up here (referring to the list of 10 activities above) and sort of do that “it depends.” You could imagine a “Study Trip to France” that doesn’t have a whole lot of the reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation with it, and then you could make the argument that even though it was for credit, and even though it seems experiential, you may make the argument it’s not very good. It’s not very effective in terms of student learning.

    This is a definition that I prefer. You can run with it or not, I know that BYU is working on some of your own definitions behind these things, like significant learning or…inspiring learning. This is from AEE, the Association of Experiential Education, “Experiential education is a philosophy that informs many methodologies in which educators purposefully engage with learners in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, clarify values, develop people’s capacity to contribute to their communities.
    The key things for me here is that it’s a philosophy that informs many methodologies. And we’re talking about a variety of methodologies that could be put in play. Which is why that list of things like “a lab, an internship, a study abroad trip” all could be “counted”, per se, as experiential learning. So then, let’s do a quick scan of why this seems to be of though today in higher education.
    What is going on? Career development folks, are you in the house today? I think you are, yes. So we are seeing it, obviously, with everything post “The Great Recession”, a focus on career outcomes, and asking colleges and universities to be much more directive and purposeful about the kinds of things we’re doing to set students up for success. Integrating curriculum to career. So, boom, you have a rise in things like cooperatives, internships, job shadowing and undergraduate research. Is that the case at BYU? Have we noticed that rise? Absolutely! At my school, little old Earlham College, we went from maybe 10 students doing internships that were sort of within our purview at the institution, to now, we have over 150, and for us that’s a big deal. That’s 150 students spread all over the world, doing internships over the summer. And that change happened in 6 to 7 years. It’s pretty dramatic for us, we’re a school of just 1,200 students. So, we’re seeing this rise of experiential learning in career development.

    Do we have our international folks in the house, anybody from study abroad? Yes! Excellent. So, we’re actually seeing it in global education! We’re finding that, “hmm it might make sense” (and I know BYU is a leader in this), to get our students out of the United States bubble, and experiencing the world in different ways, and how the world sees us. That’s actually really critical as we think about internationalizing our curriculm and what it means to be a global citizen today. And so here, again, we see a rise in, less so the year and semester study abroad (those have stayed fairly consistent), but interestingly it’s these shorter term experiences [that] have cropped up. So January and May terms we sort of term these “one month intensives.” International Summer Research. There was an example of that given just this morning, just before my talk. International Internships, International Service Experiences. So These have been on the rise, and again, same sort of thing, how are we gonna give our students that sort of 21st century knowledge and abilities, and how do we deploy the pedagogy of Experiential Learning, to make it happen.

    Co-Curricular learning, whose here from the Co-Curricular side? I know there’s got to be somebody. A few, thank you. So here again we’re finding that, as I said before, learning happens everywhere, right, it doesn’t just happen in the classroom. We’ve long thought of this idea of “Living, Learning Communities.” How do we connect where our students our living, residential space, with some sort of thematic learning. Club Organizational Participation Leadership, Athletics, First-Year Experiences, Second-Year Experiences, Senior Cap-stone Experiences, Work Study, all of this learning that happens outside of the classroom. I think a lot of colleges and universities are starting to say “a lot of this learning his significant. How do we integrate it? How do we capitalize on it in meaningful and purposeful ways.”

    Civic Education. Volunteerism that our students do in the community. Service learning, which is more directly integrated in a classroom project or experience. Doing integrated community projects and research like the playground project I mentioned previously. The idea of sustained dialogues, or dialogues across difference, and how we can get our students talking with each other about subjects that matter. And on and off campus activism that you’re seeing. I think that students are fully engaged now in their campus and their community as a sight of learning and that learning happens both in and out of the classroom, and what we’re wrestling within co-curriculum and civic education, is how do we orchestrate that in meaningful ways? How do we make that a part of a student’s overall undergrad experience.

    And then we’re seeing a rise in pedagogical experimentation, active learning’s been around for awhile, but I think you’re seeing much more of it of late, especially with the concerns over the mook craze. Remember the mook craze that happened for a little while there and we though we were all going to be out of a job as professors. It turned out that the mooks themselves weren’t going to completely revolutionize what was going to happen in higher ed but I think they were a symbol that, suddenly, learning and teaching were going to become far more portable than we had imagined previously, and it was going to ask serious and sustained questions about the role of the residential community in learning, and the role of bricks and mortar (buildings like this) in learning. These are things we are very much in the midst of in higher ed today. Team class learning, flipped classrooms, gamifying the curriculum, alot of this has cropped up in the last 15 to 20 years.

    So, in a lot of ways, it’s “Let Many Flowers Bloom”, this is great, this is what we want to see in higher ed in general. We want to have this kind of experimentation and this kind of work happening in all sectors of the academy, all disciplines. Great! All I try to do in this book is try to clean it up a little bit, per se, and if experiential learning is a philosphy, then let’s talk about four core methodologies that can be put out and put in place in higher ed today, and sort of organize a lot of those many flowers into four different families of flowers so to speak. So, active learning is one, and we’ll have an opportunity in the workshops tomorrow to explore that a little more in depth, but I’ll give you some examples of it here today. Project based learning is another one, community based learning, and work integrated learning. And so for me, almost all the things we talk about when we talk about experiential learning and experiential education in higher ed, can fit into those four buckets. They are not discrete buckets, sometimes you have quite a bit of overlap between them, but it was helpful for me to sort of say “what are all of these things and how can we organize them into an ecosystem of sorts” for what is happening in higher ed today.

    Anybody know about google endgrams. This is a fun thing you can do with yourself if you’d like. Not necessarily scientific, but fun nonetheless! What it does is it tracks the prevalence of a word in books over time. So you can put in anything there, but in this particular case I put in “experiential learning”, so this is a quick snapshot, non-scientific way of showing the discourse. What’s happening out there in our environment, and you can see the little blips down here, really the start of the progressive era, and John Dewey’s work for example, but you see this dramatic spike post, sort of 1995 or so, and where we are today. Just a sort of way to signal that it’s in the air, a lot of people are talking about it, and it seems to be relevant in our context. Ok, so one of the rules I learned somewhere is you should only speak for as long as your audience is old, right, in age. So if you are a kindergarten teacher you have about six minutes of talking before you should have the folks doing something, so I’m going to just assume you all are about 20 years old. Is that a safe bet? Alright, so 20 minutes, that’s it. So in your tables, just a couple of questions for you to ponder:

    1. What do these methods have in common, in your mind, if anything. So, if you think about active learning, community based learning, workin integrated learning, what do they have in common?
    2. And what do you think explains this rise in interest in experiencing in higher ed today?

    Just some open ended questions for you to have a little reflective discussion at your tables. Ok? Go.
    You probably already figured out that one of the big ones, at least in my perspective, is that done well all of these use [Daniel Cole’s] common core, of having some sort of direct experience with reflection, active conceptualization and active experimentation. But you may have come up with some others as well. Two that I’d like to point out is Risk and Uncertainty.

    Risk and Uncertainty

    Interestingly, if you do the etymology of the word experience, there’s the latin expereri, which means to test or to experiment, which makes some sense, but then also to risk. And I think when we think about some of the most transformative experiences that we have, Dr. Neilson’s example of the fellow with the penny, there’s some risk involved in that, particularly to the fingers and to the trousers, right? They can be “little r” risk. Essentially the idea that “I don’t know what’s going to happen next.” And this is, I think, for a world of uncertainty that we’re in now, this can be an impactful and effective pedagogy for attention-getting, as well as learning and engagement in general. ONe of the reasons why “Study Abroad” can be counted as one of the most impactful experiences students have in their undergraduate career, is these elements of risk and uncertainty are often there. In BYU context, you have your mission trips. I would expect that the risk and uncertainty that comes from, it’s two years yes, in a place or country other than their home town. There’s risk and uncertainty there, but what comes with that is a level of engagement that. Our bodies, our brains, and our soul, and that can be quite profound, so I think part of it for me is how can we infuse more healthy risk taking, right, for both faculty and students? And then also, helping understand that uncertainty is part of the learning process and should be celebrated and not feared.

    This is a take on an AACU, American Association of Colleges and Universities, they did this Leap initiative, which was around articulating the 21st century Libera Arts skills. A version of their line went something like this: “The World is full of complex, unscripted problems, where the answers are not immediately known and the consequences matter.” And I am not a mental health expert, and I do not claim to be, but I would posit that one of the reasons we are seeing a rise amongst our young people in mental health concerns, mental health needs, whether it’s depression, anxiety etc, I think they know this is the world they are graduating into. I think they know in an existential level, and that through social media, their feeds etc, our feeds, because it’s not just young people, we get a constant barrage of the challenges and complexities that are associated with our world today, and then they enter into our university spaces where that alignment isn’t always there, right? They don’t see the connection as well as they might, between the challenges they see, the existential challenges of the world, and what they’re experiencing in and out of the classroom. I’m not claiming that there is a correlation whatsoever, or causal. I’m just saying I think this is a piece of the puzzle, and I think if you heard Greta Thunberg talk at the United Nations when she was talking to the delegation there, and she uses the phrase “how dare you?” I think that’s tapping into some of this. “How dare you?” right? You are eating our future. And so, I think that is something we really should be wrestling with as we think about how we position what we do with our students in the classroom (in and out of the classroom). Ok, so we’re done with part one, which was just some basic definitions, and some sort of description of what this looks like. What does the evidence say? What are some examples and models, how do we know if we’re doing it well? And what are some common challenges and responses to those? That’s where we are headed in part two. So this is the pedagogy for uncertainty bit.

    The Pedagogy for Uncertainty

    Ok, so models and evidence, let’s start with active learning. I don’t know how many of you saw this, it came out in the Chronicle, maybe 9 months ago? “Is It Ever Ok to Lecture Anymore?” Was the line. And this is one of the things that came from it:

    “…research on the matter is quite convincing. A 2014 meta-analysis of 228 studies of lectures and active-learning strategies showed that the results were decidedly one-sided in favor of active learning. So much so that the authors found it questionable ethically to make students attend lecture based courses, given all that we know about how ineffective they are.”

    So, ok, you know, all well and good. I really don’t think that its this big monolithic thing called lecture, I think what this is really referring to is a little bit of what I am doing right now, right? Passive, content transmission to students and just calling it good, right. But most of us who do some form of directive instruction/lecture understand that there are loads of ways that we can make such direct instruction much more interactive. But I do think it’s important to note that when we do think about what it is we are trying to do with our students in and out of the classroom, that it’s pretty clear now that simply passive instruction through death by powerpoint is pretty clearly shown to not be effective. And I have a…oh shoot! It skipped it!
    Anyways, I have a wonderful picture there, it’s from The Matrix, and the fellow, I forget his name, not Neo but the other guy. The one who gives him the pills. Help me out here cultured people. MORPHEUS! Yes! He’s got his glasses on, right, and the little meme says “What if I told you that reading powerpoint slides was not teaching?” Sorry that I couldn’t put it up there, but that’s what I had.

    And example. Ok, so Eric Mosur is well known in this area. Professor of Physics at Harvard, teaches, you know, 150-200 students at a time in large lecture halls, and in an interview with him he said:

    “I thought I was a good teacher until I realized that my students were just memorizing information rather than learning to understand the material.”
    And it really made him think about what he was doing in the lecture, in these large lecture classrooms with students, and he totally changed how he taught. I won’t go into the details of it, but it involved lots of team-based learning, lots of interactive exercises with students, and a lot of really getting at understanding instead of just parroting and copying down information. And if we can do this in physics, we can do it in pretty much any discipline. I would encourage you to google some of Eric Mosur’s work and some of the research around it to learn more about it, but the big point here is active learning is here to stay. We should continue to study it, we should continue to learn what makes it most effective, and we probably, at this point, need to start thinking pretty seriously about asking questions about why we are dominating our instruction time with powerpoint.
    That’s one methodolgy, the second methodolgy, community based learning. Most people are probably familiar with the High Impact Learning Scholarship and George Koos work, but just to give us an overview here. So this was how students were self-reporting about what were the significant or impactful experiences they had as an undergraduate. It’s a pretty large study, and it’s been replicated in terms of follow up studies, but here are the main things that came out of that, right? Learning communities. Collaborative assignments and projects, service learning, community based learning. Undergraduate research, internships, project-based learning. Diversity/global learning (which is a category for study abroad and things like that). And immersion experiences of different shapes and sizes, right? So these were found to be high-impact learning practices, and its spawned a whole variety of workshops and discussion about how we can do more of this in higher ed. You have places like the university of Georgia now, who is requiring every single undergraduate (that’s 55,000 of them) to essentially have one high impact practice to graduate, then they had to wrestle with “how the heck do we track that? How do we put it in the system of records?” And all that goes with that. You have some colleges, smaller ones, smaller liberal arts college scale, who says “no, we want our students to have multiple high-impact practices, we’re going to make sure that everyone who graduates from __________ has two to three high impact practices before they graduate.”
    You’re seeing a lot of that sort of movement now. An example of a high impact, community based practice, for example, is the University of Oregon ( I tried to pick one that was similar in scale to BYU), I love this initiative, this project. It’s called the sustainable cities project. They started this about five years ago. They created a center, and they essentially did a call out to all the local towns and municipalities of Oregon to be the sustainable city for the year. And if they were chosen as the sustainable city, they gave, to the University of Oregon, a list of projects that they would like help on as it relates to helping their town or city more sustainable, and then that center organized (and this is the key bit) existing classes and courses already in the curriculum, to bring to bear already on those projects. So they essentially acted a curator. They grabbed the projects from the town, and they distributed. Them out across the disciplines and across the University, and the faculty members in that particular course said, “yeah, yeah I can do that project and integrate it into my existing class.”
    It’s not new, right? It’s existing structure, but its enabling students to then spend that semester (or in some cases a year) working on an applied project that has a definitive and definite impact on a particular town or community. So they focused on one town or community a year, and that town get’s all the benefit of that great idea generation that come from 18-21 year olds, and the University gets this amazing benefit of giving a practical applied project to 18-21 year olds, and it’s been wildly successful, and it’s actually the reason we started that “Environmental Sustainability Course” at Earlham. We wanted to say “wow, well we can’t do it at that scale, little old Earlham college, but we could scale it down to something we can actually do in a major” and that’s where our new senior capstone came from. But I think it’s a great example, and an idea of what you can do of scale when you think about community-based learning.

    Dr. Nielson referred to this, this is the gallup poll big six. So, as she said, this was research that was done asking students who have graduated, who have found themselves in a job or career that they found particularly meaningful, they backmapped it. What was going on in your undergraduate career that kind of indicated that you might be in this meaningful, in this place of finding great meaning in your vocation and in your employment, and they found these six. Sometimes called the big six or the deep six.

    1. A professor who excited me about learning.
    2. Professors who cared about me as a person.
    3. A mentor who helped me pursue my goals and dreams (we know this intuitively, this is the relational side of the work that we do) .
    4. Work on a project that took a semester or more to complete.
    5. Internship or job that allowed me to apply my learning.
    6. Extremely active in extracurricular activities and organizations.

    Do you see some parallels here in the ways we have been talking already on what kinds of things and activities and experiences students are having as undergraduates, and the effect those have on meaning making in their career? Now here’s the interesting thing. How many graduates in the U.S report experiencing all six of these in their four years at college? Do we have any guesses for a percentage? What percentage of undergraduates report experiencing all six of these? I see a four. Anyone want to be more optimistic than four percent? Fifteen! Ten percent! Five percent! Alright here’s the drumroll. Three percent.

    So really this is a clarion call for us, if part of what we are doing is helping student’s live a life well-lived, flourish in the world, no necessarily just with income, although that’s apart of it, but with their wholeness, then can we figure out ways with more of this to happen, right? And that requires us to talk across divisions, right? Traditional academic divisions, but also co-curricular and curricular divisions. How can we do more of this working collectively together in the modern college/university?

    An example of project-based learning, again, to reference that deep six, a project that took a semester or more to complete. I love the example of Worcester Polytechnic Institute. They have an integrated, project-based learning curriculum that is scaffolded first year, second year, third year, fourth year. So their first year experience, organized around project based learning. Their second year experience, organized around project based learning. Their junior year: Internship, organized around project based learning. By the time they get to their senior year in their major, they are actually embedded in a company or organization doing a project for that company or organization. It’s the most robust, institution-wide, project-based learning scaffolding that I’ve seen in higher ed. So just an example of what you can do with this if you’re thinking of, not just an isolated project once, but how students to practice “projecting” over the course of their four years, so they get better at it, because what we know is that projecting is hard. It’s messy, it’s confusing, there’s some skills you need to require while doing it. Well, can we get students to practice that more in the course of their four years.

    Ok, last one, Work Integrated Learning.

    So this is from the American Association of Colleges and Universities’ employer survey from 2018, you probably can’t read that, but I’ll just give you the cliff-notes version. So these are the priorities that executives and hiring managers value most, right, in terms of what they want from graduates coming out of higher education, and for those of us that love to champion the liberal arts, this should make your heart warm a little bit. Ability to communicate effectively orally, right, we’re talking about 80-90%. Critical thinking, analytical reasoning, 78-84%, ethical judgement and decision making, ability to work effectively in teams, able to work independently, self-motivated, initiative, pro-active, communicate effectively in writing, and can apply knowledge/skills to real-world settings. Those were the top ones.

    Now, here’s the quote from the study: “Internships and apprenticeships stand out as the applied learning experience most highly valued by employers, 93 percent of executives, 94 percent of hiring managers say they will more likely hire a recent grad who held an internship/apprenticeship within a company or organization.” But here’s the kicker. “While both audiences value applied experiences and real world skills, only 33% of executives and 35% of hiring managers think that recent graduates are well-prepared to apply knowledge and skills and real-world settings.”

    So whether or not you want to argue that we want to be cautious about positioning higher ed too closely to industry, I think we are all in the business of making sure our students are successful, and one of the ways they are successful is that they are employed. Meaningful. And if what we’re hearing from the sectors is that “they’re not prepared for this”, how can we martial “experiential learning” as one methodology amongst many to help with that.

    Here’s another example, it’s a quirky one, but would be worth our time again because it’s a big university and they’re doing it at scale. Is anyone familiar with the Iowa Grow Program, University of Iowa? So here’s an example of an existing structure already happening on campus, and somebody says “hang on a second, we have so many resources, both time and money, being put into our work study program. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of students doing work-study, all with 10 hours a week, and are we capturing that learning, are we helping our students develop in any way, shape, or form. Because it’s a huge part of the student experiences, and how much money is out-layed by the university. Well they said, “what if we had guided reflection on work. What if we actually brought in experiential learning including elements of refection, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation into the work-study program. And we did it for every single student in work-study.” Big deal. That’s a lot of students. So they put this in place, it’s not perfect, their still working out the kinks, but this has caught on, and a lot of people now visit Iowa and want to learn more about the Iowa Grow Program because they’ve taken a co-curricular structure that’s already in existence and they said “how do we amplify it, how can we make this be more than just sitting down and folding envelopes” for example. Ok, I may have violated my 20 minutre rule by a couple of minutes, but not by much.

    So, at your individual tables, an oppourtunity to talk some more, and if you dont like my topics, you can talk about whatever you want, but:

    1. Which of the four methodologies do you actively use? (Now see what I’m doing, we’re remembering those methodologies every time we do this, good active learning pedagogy, right?)

    2. Which are you most likely to sort of explore or experiment with (and which are you like mmmm, not for me, either because it doesn’t work for my discipline or it does’nt work with the way I like to think about teaching and learning.). So a little bit discussion at your tables.

    So we have two more parts to go, ya’ll have been great, I know it’s a lot of sitting. One of my favorite quotations is from an educator named Dev Meyer, and she says “teaching is listening and learning is talking.” I love that line, so think about more opportunities for our students to talk and through talking, learn. Ok so this next bit is “how do we know if we are doing it well?”

    How Do We Know If We’re Doing It Well?

    “It” being experiential learning, so we have these four methodologies, they seem to be rising in interest and application across higher ed. We want to make sure we’re following best practices or what have you, and we want to make sure we are doing it effectively and that we are doing it well if we choose to do it. So, a couple of notes on that. This is Instruction versus Learning. One of my favorite basic indicators, right? “I taught Scott how to whistle, I can’t hear him whistling, I said I taught him, I didn’t saw he learned it.” So this gets at this pernicious, difficult thing that just because we taught it, doesn’t mean that learning takes place, and I actually thing this is where my meme is. There! I thought it was in a different place, but there it is: “What if I told you that reading a powerpoint aloud is not the same as teaching.” There we go. This is from bar and tag, and I think this is a really great summary of what has happened paradigmatically when we think about our teaching in and out of the classroom. It’s this difference between teaching and learning, and I think it’s fairly simple (like, well duh!) But I think it’s a lot more profound when you let it seep in and think about it some. So, in their minds you could day “teaching is lesson plans, it’s neat, it’s orderly, it’s managed, it’s documented.” So the classic teacher joke is “I designed the perfect syllabus and they sent me the wrong students.” Then, “Learning can be understanding” and we know this to be messy, spontaneous, irregular, non-linear, and complex.” So how are we working with and designing our learning environments for the right side of the column, and maybe a little bit less on the left side?

    Ok, so the 5 key principles to think through, and this is interesting because Dave mentioned it as part of BYU’s initiative:

    Purposeful. So whether your doing active learning, community-based learning, work-integrated learning, experiential learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are chosen by reflection, critical analysis, and synthesis. This idea of carefully chosen, I sometimes use the word curating, a 21st century skill for us in higher ed and really for K12 as well, is to be a curator of experience. How do we curate experiences for our students, how do we carefully chose the experiences students are going to have over the semester with us that enable that messy, irregular, non-sequential, uncertain learning to happen. On that idea of being purposeful.

    Active. Throughout the educational process the learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems and assuming responsibility. So, again here, I’m just trying to give you examples, if you’re designing an internship, maybe it’s an internship that’s integrated into the major, let’s make sure that that internship has been carefully chosen, right? We’ve bounded it well for the student, what counts, what doesn’t count, but how can we make sure that that internship is an active engagement. So, one example I like to use is we have our students at Earlham do a digital storytelling initiative. If they go on an internship, one of the choices of reflection is that they can make what is basically a 2 minute lightening video that is basically the key learning that they took away, so I was watching one of them and it was one of our students. He was doing an NGO in Washington D.C, and he gets me right off the bat, he’s a great storyteller, and he says “my first day at my internship I thought I was going to be fired.” And now I’m all in, and I say “what happened your first day of your internship?” And he got there, and he was doing something with the website because he was doing website stuff for them, and he did something where he thought he had deleted their entire website. This is the first day, right. And he’s sitting in his cubicle and he’s looking around, and he spends the next four hours trying to decide what to do. Do I admit that I deleted the website? Do I tell someone about this? Do I try to fix it myself? And finally he goes to his supervisor and says “I think I deleted the website” and his supervisor goes “no, in fact, you did not delete the website” and it’s all well and good, but you know, Kurt Hans said “Give the responsible boys and girls responsibilities big enough, if negligently performed, to wreck the state.” He’s the founder of Outward Bound, and there’s all sorts of good stuff in there. Responsible boys and girls, you gotta make sure they’re responsible first. But then duties big enough, if negligently performed, to wreck the state. Not folding envelopes, not pouring coffee, but potentially breaking somebody’s website. You’re going to manage to get really impactful learning out of that. Active


    The educator and learner may experience success, failure, and uncertainty because the outcomes of the experience cannot be totally predicted. Good experiential learning is not scripted, the outcome is not already there, it is open-ended, it is unscripted. We think about a study abroad semester and the ways in which the learning that happens there, even though there are classes and things that are scripted, there’s an unscriptedness in that experience in terms of the impact it can have on the learner, and to be ok with failure, and this is something we really need to get around. There’s some wonderful new reading out now about how we have been fearful of failure in higher ed (and learning in general) and how failure is actually absolutely essential to learning, in all that we do.

    (Question is asked)

    Yes? Yes, great! Yes! That’s a great point, we should answer that, so I think part of this is purposeful, so if we’re going to curate experience we have to be really very masterful about how we work with students to get them ready for failure, to get them ready for big, important, potentially game-changing decisions and experiences, it doesn’t mean that everything we do is life or death, but if we’re not preparing them for that, if we’re not scaffolding it, sequencing it, then when they graduate are they going to survive and thrive (and I hate this but) in the ‘real world’, I’m just going to say the world, because what we do in the academy is the real world too. That is a key skill for the modern educator, how provide experiences with that notion of the gradient, where the student is given enough where their pushed, they’re not in their comfort zone, but they’re not in their panic zone. They’re in their learning zone, right? Zone of proximate development if we want to do the Ed Sykes stuff. And I can’t give you a direct answer to that, that’s going to depend on the context of the classroom, the context of the student, but that’s what we’re going to have to master as teachers in this 21st century. Thank you for that, that’s a great comment.


    The educator’s role is setting suitable experiences, posing problems, supporting learners, and facilitating the learning process.

    We’re no longer sage on the stage (like me here today), and we’re not guides on the side either, I like to call them “we’re models in the middle”. We’re right in the middle of all this, and we’re mentoring students as we go.


    And the last one is its integrated. The activities and experiences are (and Dave will like this part, yes) are aligned with learning outcomes, with continuous feedback and assessment. So we’re not designing activities for activities sake, we’re really thinking about “what are the learning outcomes that I want out of this internship, out of this work experience, out of this assignment” and then “how do I make sure that the activities that we’re doing are aligned, and that we’re assessing them in a way that makes sense?”

    Dethink has his “Integrated Learning Plans” I think is what he calls them, but it’s for significant learning, it’s a great model for how to align your actives, your course outcome, your learning outcomes, and your assessment.

    Ok, we’re on the last little bit here, y’all have been very patient. Challenges and responses, so let’s talk about these students. One of the things that the research is beginning to show pretty clearly is that while active learning, as on example in particular, is more beneficial to their learning, they don’t always like it. Does that ring a bell for anybody? So you’ll hear things like “it’s confusing”, “it’s too much work” or “I just want to learn this by myself, can we not be doing this group work stuff”, so those are common. This just came out recently, it was a study around STEM:

    “Despite active learning being recognized as a superior method of instruction in the classroom, a major recent survey found that most college STEM instructors still chose traditional teaching methods…comparing passive lectures with active learning using a randomized experimental approach and identical course materials, we find that students learn more, but feel like they learn less. We show that this negative correlation is caused in part by the increased cognitive effort required during active learning.”

    So, in a sense they feel stupider, right, while they’re doing it, but that’s good! We’re back to that failure thing! Like “oh, I actually don’t know this, I have to work on it more” so that means there’s different things we have to do as instructors, right? We have to be overt: “Here is why we’re about to do what we’re about to do”, “Here’s why you might experience moments of uncomfortableness or uncertainty or etcetera”, and “here’s some strategies to get around that”, right? So being overt, the fancy way of saying that is being megacognitive with students, help them learn how to learn, give them a sense that they’re in a process and they’re moving through that process. I often say that students are attuned to one station (actually we all are) it’s WWIFM, what’s in it for me? So we have to answer the WWIFM for students, like “why should I engage in group work?”, “What’s the point?”, “How is this relevant?”, “How is this going to help me?” So we have to be really, again overt, about answering that WWIFM for students.

    Think about giving students choice, in a variety of ways. The more, I think, the student has an opportunity to choose, for example reflection is a classic example of this, no student likes forced reflection. Very few of them do. Please write a five page paper reflecting on her internship, they tend to find that to be very stilted. So what we did at Earlham is we gave them multiple ways to reflect on their internship. So like I mentioned, the video they can do, with a paper, with a relfective meeting they can have with a career counselor, so that choice gives students a sense of ownership as they go through. Make sure it’s relevant. From the study it says “frequent small feedback to students along the way helps them to feel more competent as they go through active learning, so the more we can give them small amounts of frequent feedback the better, and we may be thinking about in general with our pedagogy. The old system of nothing, nothing, nothing, midterm, nothing, nothing, nothing, final is just not supported at all research. So how do we learning more iterative and that feedback just in time along the way?

    Faculty Practices

    Let’s talk about faculty practices! Time and coverage. So, when I give workshops I frequently hear this: I don’t have time, the way the semester’s organized, and I’ve got too much to cover. A couple of thoughts on that. This is from the Vision and Change Report out of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. So this is Biology faculty talking to fellow Biology faculty, and they say:

    “As biology faculty we need to put the depth versus breadth debate behind us. It is true today, and will be even more so in the future, that faculty cannot pack everything known in the life sciences into one or two survey courses. The advances and breakthroughs in the understanding of the living systems cannot be covered in a classroom or a textbook. They cannot even be covered in the curriculum of life sciences majors. The time has come for all biology faculty, but particularly those of us who teach undergraduates, to change the way we think about teaching.”

    So biology faculty are saying “we can’t cover it all, even in a four year curriculum.” So a challenge for us all to think about, and it’s for me as well, because everytime I think about my courses I think about “well how do I get through X,Y, and Z, is to think less about coverage and more about uncoverage. How can students uncover the key enduring understandings that I want out of my discipline? Out of my area of study? Out of this particular course? I said this in our round tables this morning, if you think about gum and chewing, with the gum being the content and the chewing being the reflecting on it, how can we give students less gum and more chewing? Because the chewing is the actual fun part, we don’t just like stare at the gum, we like to pick the gum up and actually chew it. One of my new friends in nutrition said “ruminating”, which I love, because that’s a bovine joke. Ruminating grass, right? Help me out here people.

    Ok, so what are some responses to that. Focus on enduring understanding. So, understanding by design, Wiggins and Mctees work is really good here. A provocative question here would be: If a student grabbed you a year after your course in line for coffee and said “Professor ______ I haven’t seen you in a year, but I just want to tell you that your course ______” what is it that you would want them to say? What’s that next line? Your course ____? That’s that enduring understanding. What if we were assessing learning one what students remembered from your course a year after they took it? Because it’s not about memorization. That’s really about focusing on student understandings and making sure student’s get that. If all of this sounds overwhelming, I would give you James Lang’s book “Small Teaching”, I think it’s a really wonderful book, his point is basically that sometimes we ask our faculty to do too much: “Hey, reinvent your courses!”, “Do community based learning!”, do this, do that. There’s all kinds of simple things you can do in your class tomorrow that take little time that can have big impact. This is a wonderful book, I get no proceeds from giving him props here, of just really specific, tangible, simple things you can do to improve that notion of learning rather than teaching.


    Ok, then assessment is another faculty response, how in the heck to I assess this. We’re no longer in a culture of one right answer, I can’t bubble sheet this thing. So one of the big responses that I have to that is “rubrics are your friend.” Learn about rubrics, ask your students to develop the rubric with you, so if you’re doing a community-based learning project and you want to make a rubric about how that’s going to be assessed and graded, ask the students. Ask them to build it with you, and watch their engagement level go up as they think “yeah, how should we be assessed on whether or not we’ve hit the mark here?”

    If you want to go really radical, google Ungrading and the Chronicle of Higher Ed, there was just piece that came out, probably two weeks ago, surveying 5 or 6 faculty from different Universities including the University of Notre Dame, who basically went to their dean and said “I would like to stop grading. I think it is functionally not helpful for my students to think about extrinsically motivated ways to getting a grade, and I would like to figure out a way, in my course, that diminishes the impact of “focus on grades”. Really fascinating to see what that would actually look like, how we could imagine it. So I want to sort of finish on this idea of risk. Is it all worth it, there’s a lot of risk that comes with all of this, and I think that we, as faculty, need to remember the creativity curve. So, at the start it’s like “this thing is going to be awesome. I’m doing a new integrated learning thing in my course”, and then half way through the middle of it you’re like “I suck, I have no idea what I’m doing”, hang in there, because it might turn out ok over time. So just remember that part of this risk-taking and uncertainty that we’re asking students to do, we have to own as well as faculty. Build communities of practice, like this, you got allies and friends in this room that you can bounce ideas off of, who can come watch you in class, who can brainstorm ideas. And then the last line from that is an outward bound line: “A ship is safe in the harbor, but that is not what a ship is built for.” So if we are focused on being safe with our teaching, that’s not what teaching and learning is about. Safety is maybe a necessary but insufficient quality of what transformative teaching and learning looks like.

    Institutional Support and Structure

    Ok, let’s talk about the really hard stuff, institutional support structures. This is from Randy Bass, he’s at Georgetown, and I think this is a good way to sum it all up:

    “By using the phrase ‘disrupting ourselves’ I’m asserting that one key source of disruption in higher ed is coming not from the outside, but from our own practices. From a growing body of experiential moving from margin to center and proving to be critical and powerful to the overall quality and meaning of the undergraduate experience. As a result, we’re running headlong into our own structures, in the own ways we do business.”

    Anybody who’s tried to do a project in 15 weeks of a semester knows what I’m talking about here, and then he goes on to say:

    “The pressures are disruptive because to this point we funded our institutions as if the formal curriculum was the center of learning, whereas we’ve supported the experiential co-curriculum and a handful of anomalous courses largely on the margins, even as they often serve as the poster-children for our institutions sense of mission, values, and brand.”

    And this is the hard one, I’m a faculty member teaching faculty members.

    “All of us in higher education need to ask ourselves: Can we continue to operate on the assumption that the formal curriculum that the formal curriculum is the center of the undergraduate experience?”

    And then he has this wonderful diagram where he talks about the formal curriculum and the ways in which it’s getting pulled outward and being more inclusive, in essence, by all these things. By the high impact, by the experiential co-curriculum, by the informal learning that students have all over the place, right?

    We have things like tenure and promotion to deal with, 15-week semesters, calendar semesters, we even have disciplines that we have to deal with in terms of the boundaries there, and whether or not students can do inter-disciplinary work. Here’s just one example, I know you won’t be able to read that, but its more about the picture. So, we did this study of 30 graduates of Earlham college, what they majored in and what sector they wound up going into for their work, right? And essentially what you see here is the liberal arts in action. They majored in anything and they did anything. So there are some lines that are thicker, right? For instance, biology to medicine, but there’s also a line from classics to medicine. There’s also a line from business and entrepreneurship to technology, the point being I think he really need to think about how our students can think more inter-disciplinarily then perhaps we might have assumed.

    Responses to the institutional stuff, this is the hard stuff, so I’m not even saying this is easy. Have an institutional statement on significant learning. We have one on tenure and promotion, but what would it look like to really identify for BYU what significant learning ought to look like in and out of the classroom. How can we more integrate the work that happens in the curriculum and the co-curriculum? Is it even possible to re-visit tenure and promotion guidelines to create more incentive for faculty to try these thing? Resources and leadership matter! The three Ts, the three things the faculty pay the most attention to, in my opinion: Time, Tenure, and Treasure.

    Those are your main carrots. Are the ways we can use Time, Tenure, and Treasure in different ways to incentivize faculty to experiment and try these new modes out. Another piece, I’d recommend this book by Kathy Davidson, formerly at Duke, “The New Education”. Lots of great ideas there about how we can think differently about how we organize higher ed. So why is this risk taking and all this stuff worth it, I want to return to where I started with this pathetic looking little playground in Richmond, Indiana. So, to make a very long story short, I watched over the course of my semester as my students basically put me to work. The first thing they said was “Jay, we know nothing about computer-aided design, can you bring somebody in here who can show us how to use sketch-up pro?” Ok, I think I can do that, and I ran to the library. “Jay, we’re going to have to fundraise for this project and we don’t know how to fundraise, can you bring us someone from the advancement office to teach us how to fundraise?” Yeah! Hold on! “Jay, we don’t know how to do project management, this is a major project that we’re doing here. We don’t know how to do a Gant chart, can you bring us someone from business to teach us how to do Gant Charts?” I think I can do that!

    So I, basically the whole semester, was like this errand boy running back and forth trying to curate all these materials for these amazing students as they blew my mind over the course of about seven months, they went from this to a completed project in about eight months, they fundraised $250,000 for this, and they went from design to implementation, and it went in and it was a playground that was focused on kids with neuro-processing disorders in essence, and so there was a fence around it, and about a month later my Present got a letter in the mail from a mom in the community, and she wrote:

    “I’m writing this letter with tears in my eyes, because for the first time ever my child can play in a playground in town safely, with me not having to worry about if he’s going to be ok, and I just want to thank Earlham college for caring enough to do something in our community like this.”

    And so, for me, it was a mic-drop moment of ‘this is why we do what we do, this is why it matters’. And I’ll just leave you with this, it’s just a quick little video, so you can actually see, going from that to what they wound up producing. These are 21 year old seniors who can now put this on their resume, that they raised $250,000 that they understand how to use Sketch Up Pro, and that they put together something that’s going to have a lasting impact on their community.

    (Video Shown)

    So I went from being a skeptical and very uncertain faculty member at the beginning of that process, to being amazed at what my students were capable of doing, and it just reminded me very much about the power of this kind of learning, when we really think about how we can step aside and say a little bit less to students “listen to me” and a little bit more “how can I help?” And to really empower them to make the world a better place, a world they want to live in and thrive in.

    So I’ll leave you with an inspirational poem, because I love poems, and this is Wendell Berry, a good old Kentucky farmer, that brings us all the way back to the start on uncertainty. This is a poem of his called “The Real Work”:

    It may be that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work.
    And that when we no longer know which way to go, we have come to our real journey.
    The mind that is not baffled, is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.

    So, with that, can I invite you just one last time in your tables to take just a little bit of time. Maybe jot down one takeaway from today on that card of yours where you listed your questions, and a little bit of time because I know we’re concluding here, just a couple of minutes to just chit-chat with your neighbors about some take-aways from today, ok? Go!