Can we integrate this type of learning in the online classroom? Or should we?
Experiential learning can be an effective method for helping students' integrate course material into their day-to-day lives. As Beckem and Watkins (2012) noted, experiential learning allows students to actualize the material in a real-world setting, thereby increasing the value and retention of the material. Experiential learning has the potential to help students view course material in a less esoteric manner, which can make said material less daunting and more applicable to a professional setting.
I have seen the value of experiential learning from a students' perspective as I was lucky enough (so I am told) to have grown up the Colorado Rockies - a playground for the natural sciences. My high school was located on a 50-acre campus that contained forests, meadows, two ponds, numerous massive rock outcroppings, and a creek. I fully remember going on brief "field trips" during my science classes to explore the campus environment to understand the world around us in a holistic and practice manner. Although I am not a Geologist, I can still remember the events that took place during the Mesozoic Period as well as how to distinguish between shale, limestone, granite, and the many virtues of gypsum. The only reason I can remember such things is that I learned them in a hands-on setting, on field trips, not from a textbook or a lecture. Though I am certainly not degrading the value of information learned through textbooks or lectures, I am merely advocating for including experiential learning in our teaching repertoire.
Kolb (1984) indicated that experiential learning consists of four elements: active experimentation (doing), concrete experience (experiencing), abstract conceptualization (thinking), and reflective observation (reflective) I believe that each one of these elements is an essential part of the critical thinking process - a process we try to teach our students. By moving beyond rote style learning or teaching to the test, I believe students can gain a better understanding of the material and instructors can increase their enjoyment of teaching.
The difficult question, however, can we implement experiential learning in an online setting? Should we require a service-learning component or some other activity that requires student to perform work offline? Can we be innovate and think of ways for student to have "virtual' hands-on experiences. Alternately, should we attempt to teach through experiential learning at all? Is this type of educational paradigm a god fit for the average online learner? Please share your thoughts, questions, and comments.
Beckem II, J. M., & Watkins, M. (2012). Bringing life to learning: Immersive experiential learning simulations for online and blended courses. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(5), 61-70.
Kolb, D. A. 1984. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall