History and Links




"I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand."

–Confucius, China's most famous teacher, philosopher, and political theorist, 551-479 BC



History of Experiential Learning

The value of experience as a tool in the creation of knowledge and the fostering of human development was seen as early as the 4th century B.C. "There using the language of knowledge is no proof that they possess it." (Aristotle). By this statement, Aristotle is stating that theory is not understood until a person has the ability to apply it.

The notion of experiential education, or learning by doing, has a long history. Early on, outdoor educators embraced experiential education as a way of learning in the outdoors. Similarly, adventure education programs, which also take participants into the outdoors, use real-world experiences to achieve their learning goals. It was not until the 1970s that experiential education emerged as a recognized field of education, and in 1977 the Association for Experiential Education (AEE) was established (Hammerman, Hammerman, & Hammerman, 2001).

It is primarily in this century with the work of John Dewey that learning through experiences has been valued as an important foundation in formal educational setting. Dewey challenged educators in the 1910's, 20's, and 30's to develop educational programs that would not be isolated from real life experience. There was a boom in the 60's and 70's with the work of many psychologists, sociologists, and educators who believed in the value of experience not necessarily as a replacement to theory and lecture but in addition to it. Among these are Piaget, Chickering, Tumin, Bloom, Friere, Gardner, and Lewin.

More recently, David Kolb has taken the gauntlet in support of experiential learning stating that learning is multi-dimensional process. Beginning from concrete experience, to observation and reflection, then to the formation of abstract concepts and generalizations, to testing implications of new concepts in new situations. Many others have taken this model and expanded on it or used it to explain their theories.

Sources: University of Lethbridge Experiential Learning Research (

Adkins, Carol - Simmons, Bora "Outdoor, Experiential, and Environmental Education: Converging or Diverging Approaches?" ERIC Digest (


Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi

Born in Zurich, Pestalozzi (1746 - 1827) took up Rousseau's ideas and explored how they might be developed and implemented. His early experiments in education (at Neuhof) ran into difficulties but he persisted and what became known as the 'Pestalozzi Method' came to fruition in his school at Yverdon (established in 1805). Instead of dealing with words, he argued, children should learn through activity and through things. They should be free to pursue their own interests and draw their own conclusions (Darling 1994: 18).


Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers was born January 8, 1902 in Oak Park, Illinois. Rogers founded client-centered psychotherapy and pioneered in the development of scientific methods for studying psychotherapeutic outcomes and processes. In 1942 Rogers became the first therapist to record and transcribe therapy sessions verbatim, a practice now standard. He published his ideas and clinical results in several books, including On Becomimg a Person (quoted below) which made him a well-known figure in American psychology.

Rogers taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

"Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person's ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me.

Neither the Bible nor the prophets—neither Freud nor research—neither the revelations of God nor man—can take precedence over my own direct experience.

My experience is not authoritative because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority because it can always be checked in new primary ways. In this way its frequent error or fallibility is always open to correction."

      —from On Becoming a Person, Carl Rogers

Web source: Carl Rogers: Where No Psychologist Went Before


Experiential Learning per Carl Rogers: Overview

Rogers distinquished two types of learning: cognitive (meaningless) and experiential (significant). The former corresponds to academic knowledge such as learning vocabulary or multiplication tables and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about engines in order to repair a car. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner. Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning:

  • Personal involvement
  • Learner-initiated
  • Evaluated by learner
  • Pervasive effects on learner

To Rogers, experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers feels that all human beings have a natural propensity to learn; the role of the teacher is to facilitate such learning. This includes:

  • 1. Setting a positive climate for learning
  • 2. Clarifying the purposes of the learner(s)
  • 3. Organizing and making available learning resources
  • 4. Balancing intellectual and emotional components of learning
  • 5. Sharing feelings and thoughts with learners but not dominating

According to Rogers, learning is facilitated when:

  • The student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction;
  • It is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems; and,
  • Self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success.

Rogers also emphasizes the importance of learning to learn and an openness to change.

Web source: Experiential Learning, Open Learning Technology Corporation Limited


Maria Montessori, MD

Maria Montessori (August 31, 1870 – May 6, 1952) was an Italian educator, scientist, physician, philosopher, feminist, and humanitarian.

Dr. Montessori was the first woman in Italy to receive a medical degree. She worked in the fields of psychiatry, education and anthropology. She believed that each child is born with a unique potential to be revealed, rather than as a "blank slate" waiting to be written upon. Her main contributions to the work of those of us raising and educating children are in these areas:

  • Preparing the most natural and life supporting environment for the child
  • Observing the child living freely in this environment
  • Continually adapting the environment in order that the child may fulfill his greatest potential -- physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.

Source: The International Montessori Index (, ( and Wikipedia (

Dr. Maria Montessori's image on Italy's 1000.00 Lira note








"Scientific observation has established that education is not what the teacher gives; education is a natural process spontaneously carried out by the human individual, and is acquired not by listening to words but by experiences upon the environment. The task of the teacher becomes that of preparing a series of motives of cultural activity, spread over a specially prepared environment, and then refraining from obtrusive interference. Human teachers can only help the great work that is being done, as servants help the master. Doing so, they will be witnesses to the unfolding of the human soul and to the rising of a New Man who will not be a victim of events, but will have the clarity of vision to direct and shape the future of human society."

–Maria Montessori, Education for a New World


John Dewey

Introduction to John Dewey's Philosophy of Education

"Education is life itself." —John Dewey

John Dewey (1859-1952) believed that learning was active and schooling unnecessarily long and restrictive. His idea was that children came to school to do things and live in a community which gave them real, guided experiences which fostered their capacity to contribute to society. For example, Dewey believed that students should be involved in real-life tasks and challenges:

  • Maths could be learnt via learning proportions in cooking or figuring out how long it would take to get from one place to another by mule
  • History could be learnt by experiencing how people lived, geography, what the climate was like, and how plants and animals grew, were important subjects

Dewey had a gift for suggesting activities that captured the center of what his classes were studying.

Dewey's education philosophy helped forward the "progressive education" movement, and spawned the development of "experiential education" programs and experiments.

Dewey's philosophy still lies very much at the heart of many bold educational experiments, such as Outward Bound.

Read more about John Dewey, father of the experiential education movement.


Kurt Matthias Robert Martin Hahn

Kurt Hahn (5 June, 1886 - 14 December, 1974) was an inspirational founder and significant contributor to many well-recognized, innovative experiential, social development, and outdoor education schools and programs. Key figure in the development of adventure education. Founder of Salem Schools, Gordonstoun public school, Outward Bound, the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme and the Atlantic Colleges. German educationalist, born in Berlin, who founded the Salem Schools (Castle Salem 1920), Gordonstoun public school (1934). Outward Bound (1941), the Duke of Edinburgh's Award Scheme (1954 - 6) and the Atlantic Colleges (1957). Kurt Hahn was educated at Wilhelm Gymnasium, Berlin, Univerisity of Göttingen and Christ Church, Oxford (where he studied philosophy and classics). He also had spells at a number other universities. Early on he decided to be a schoolmaster. The work of Plato was one of his early influences and gave some direction to his thinking

Sources: ( and the encyclopaedia of informal education (


Myles Horton

Born in Savannah, Tennessee, Myles Horton (July 5, 1905 - January, 1990) was an American popular educator and founder of the Highlander Folk School, famous for its role in the Civil Rights Movement.

In 1932, Myles Horton--at the age of 27--founded Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. A student of Reinhold Niebuhr at Union Theological Seminary, Mr. Horton had traveled to Copenhagen to observe firsthand the Danish folk schools which became the model for the Highlander. He believed that if everyday people could come together to discuss problems and share their experiences they could solve their problems. He strongly believed in peer education, in people becoming their own experts, doing their own research, testing their ideas by taking action, analyzing their actions, and learning from their experiences.

Mr. Horton began his educational work among his neighbors in Grundy County, Tennessee, with farmers, miners, woodcutters, and mill hands--those who are bypassed by ordinary educational institutions. Highlander was committed to education for social change and to workers' rights to organize. Mr. Horton developed labor education classes, and the school was instrumental in the CIO organizing drive in the South.

Later, Mr. Horton focused Highlander's resources and programs on school desegregation, voter education, citizenship schools, and the civil rights movement. When the Great Society's War on Poverty came to Appalachia, Mr. Horton had relocated Highlander there under a new name (Highlander Research and Education Center) and was already at work among the disenfranchised people in the poorest region of the country.

Source: International and Adult Continuing Education Hall of Fame (

Resource links: Experiential Learning & Experiential Education Philosophy, Theory, Practice & Resources ( and Wilderdom Experiential Education (


Paulo Freire

The Brazilian educationalist Paulo Freire (1921 - 1997) has left a significant mark on thinking about progressive practice. His Pedagogy of the Oppressed is currently one of the most quoted educational texts (especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia). Freire was able to draw upon, and weave together, a number of strands of thinking about educational practice and liberation. Sometimes some rather excessive claims are made for his work e.g. 'the most significant educational thinker of the twentieth century'. He wasn't - John Dewey would probably take that honour - but Freire certainly made a number of important theoretical innovations that have had a considerable impact on the development of educational practice - and on informal education and popular education in particular.

Reproduced from the encyclopaedia of informal education (


David Kolb

David Kolb is the founder and chairman of EBLSI and professor of Organizational Behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University.

He is the author of Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development, and the creator of the Kolb Learning Style Inventory. Other works include Conversational Learning: An experiential approach to knowledge creation, Innovation in professional education: Steps on a journey from teaching to learning, Organizational Behavior: An experiential approach, and numerous journal articles on experiential learning. He is the recipient of four honorary degrees recognizing his contribution to experiential learning in higher education.

Web source: Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc.


EL Quotes:


"We Learn . . .
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach others."

–William Glasser


"We don't receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us."

–Marcel Proust


"Supposing I said there was a planet without schools or teachers, study was unknown, and yet the inhabitants - doing nothing but living and walking about - came to know all things, to carry in their minds the whole of learning: would you not think I was romancing? Well, just this, which seems so fanciful as to be nothing but the invention of a fertile imagination, is a reality. It is the child's way of learning. This is the path he follows. He learns everything without knowing he is learning it, and in doing so passes little from the unconscious to the conscious, treading always in the paths of joy and love…"

–Dr. Maria Montessori



Association for Experiential Education. (2002). What is the definition of experiential education? Boulder, CO: Author.

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: The Macmillan Company.

Disinger, J. (2001). Environmental education's definitional problem. In H. R. Hungerford, W. J. Bluhm, T. L. Volk, and J. M. Ramsey (Eds.), Essential Readings in Environmental Education (2nd ed., pp. 17-31). Champaign, IL: Stipes Publishing.

Donaldson, G. E., & Donaldson, L. E. (1958). Outdoor education: A definition. Journal of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, 29(17), 63.

Engleson, D. C., & Yockers, D. H. (1994). A guide to curriculum planning in environmental education. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

Ford, P. (1986). Outdoor education: Definition and philosophy. ERIC Digest. Las Cruces, NM: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 267 941)

Hammerman, D. R., Hammerman, W. M., & Hammerman, E. L. (2001). Teaching in the outdoors (5th ed.). Danville, IL: Interstate Publishers.

Hammerman, W. M. (Ed.). (1980). Fifty years of resident outdoor education, 1930-1980: Its impact on American education. Martinsville, IN: American Camping Association.

Hungerford, H., Peyton, R. B., & Wilke, R. (1980). Goals for curriculum development in environmental education. Journal of Environmental Education, 11(3), 42-47.

Itin, C. M. (1999). Reasserting the philosophy of experiential education as a vehicle for change in the 21st century. Journal of Experiential Education, 22(2), 91-98.

North American Association for Environmental Education. (1999). Excellence in environmental education: Guidelines for learning (K-12). Rock Spring, GA: Association.

Priest, S. (1986). Redefining outdoor education: A matter of many relationships. Journal of Environmental Education, 17(3), 13-15.

Richardson, M., & Simmons, D. (1996). Recommended competencies for outdoor educators. ERIC Digest. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 391 624)

Sharp, L. B. (1943). Outside the classroom. The Educational Forum, 7(4), 361-368.

UNESCO-UNEP. (1978). The Tbilisi Declaration: Final report intergovernmental conference on environmental education. Organized by UNESCO in cooperation with UNEP, Tbilisi, USSR, 14-26 October 1977, Paris, France: UNESCO ED/MD/49.

UNESCO-UNEP. (1976). The Belgrade Charter: A global framework for environmental education. Connect: UNESCO-UNEP Environmental Education Newsletter, 1(1), 1-2.





Experiential Learning articles and critiques of David Kolb's theory

What is "experiential learning"? An interesting site from South Africa with links

International Consortium for Experiential Learning (ICEL)

ICEL is the International Consortium for Experiential Learning. It is a network of organizations and individuals whose aim is to promote experiential learning at a global and international level. It is governed by a steering committee who work through a network of regional representatives. ICEL offers an international forum for dialogue among practitioners, theoreticians and administrators in the diverse fields of experiential learning. It is particularly concerned with experiential learning as a vehicle for personal, social and global change as well as institutional and community applications.

The Association for Experiential Education

The mission of the Association for Experiential Education is to develop and promote experiential education. The Association is committed to support professional development, theoretical advancement, and evaluation of experiential education worldwide. See their definition of EL.

Outdoor Education Research & Evaluation Center

The Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc. (EBLS) Research Library enables electronic access to selected publications and a bibliography on experiential learning theory.

And finally....









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