Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Involve Me: A Look at the Power of Experience on Learning

L Cubed's picture

“Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I will remember. Involve me, and I will understand”



In one ear and out the other- words bearing information seamlessly pass right through me as I sit restlessly. Show me. Involve me, and I will understand. This is my current state of mind. I am drained by a system that insists on telling despite my refusal to listen. You would think that after 14 years of being told, I would be a pro at the memorization-regurgitation routine, but that’s just it, I have grown quite weary of this. I have found myself becoming increasingly overwhelmed and exhausted by this overdrawn introductory phase called schooling, yearning for something physical, something tangible.

After much searching and contemplating I have come to realize that this something exists outside the walls of the traditional classroom-it exists within experience. In exploring learning through experience as this desired alternative to learning in the classroom, not only have I found it to be one shared by a large body of students, but one supported by researchers as a alternative for a more substantial learning process.


“Brain research establishes and confirms that multiple complex and concrete experiences are essential for meaningful learning and teaching.”

                                                                                                                                 - Eric K. Kaufman, 53


As a result of such findings, a new field known as brain-based learning has adopted an approach to teaching and learning that focuses on experience. Brain- based learning is a field that operates in conjunction with neurological research, utilizing the link between learning and neurological processes. Hence, it is not surprising that brain-based learning “encourages educators to capitalize on the associations the brain must make to create synaptic connections and anchor learning through contextual experience”(Kaufman 51)  The promotion and emphasis of experience in this learning model is one quite contrary to that of traditional education. 


“There is a lot of talking and not enough doing.”

- Unknown


Within our current education system there is an overbearing emphasis on the role of the teacher as one who imparts knowledge. In schools, students spend the majority of their time being lectured to and talked at by teachers. Furthermore, the classroom is deemed the primary place where academic learning occurs. Such ideals, which have dominated the system for centuries, speak to its failure to step beyond the confines of the classroom and utilize the fact that not all information can be taught and consequently the opportunity to learn is not restricted to the classroom. The context of the classroom is not always conducive for learning. In its failure to integrate a variety of contexts for learning , the system of education all too often exudes one of redundancy where information is constantly fed to student’s brains for them to retain with no outlet upon which they can interact with and therefore build on and create new understandings of it.

 As I have gotten older and have advanced in schooling, the affects of this redundancy have become all the more visible.  My involvement with my education in school has become more a chore of simply going through the motions and fulfilling requirements rather than building on my own understandings and therefore actively engaging in learning. It has become increasingly apparent that my experiences outside of the classroom are what truly foster my learning. Hence, it troubles me that a education system that prides itself in molding and creating innovative thinkers, does so while setting up boundaries. It is imperative that our schooling place larger emphasis on experiential learning in order to maximize student’s ability to retain information and construct meaning.


“…beyond a fundamental base of knowledge or literacy/numeracy, living is very much a subjective trial and error process which requires a balance of factual and practical knowledge, much of which is about “best solutions”, not right versus wrong answers.”

                                                                                                                            - Ronald E. Hansen, 28


                    While it is certainly true that schooling provides us with the necessary fundamental knowledge to function within a broader society, this knowledge can only take us but so far and serves almost entirely as a foundation for further learning. Eventually, we must take the knowledge that we have acquired through schooling and apply it to our daily lives/experiences. It is through this application that we actively engage in our learning, discovering, reevaluating, and building on our own understandings. As exhibited in the practices of brain-based learning, when students are active-participants in learning experiences through service and other experiential learning activities(Kaufman 52-53), there is significant wealth in new found knowledge and meaning gained through that experience.  It is important to note that the learning process does not end there. Given this wealth of knowledge, it essential that the student reflect in order to make sense of what it is that they have come to understand.     


“Giving learners the opportunity to work in a laboratory setting or attend a field trip is not enough: they must actively process that experience and connect it to the larger learning objectives.”

                                                                                                       - Eric K. Kaufman, 54

The reflection process is one often overlooked, yet vital to the learning process. It is also one that involves the guidance and impartial wisdom of the teacher, not necessarily as one imparting their own thoughts onto the student’s experience, but as one directing and possibly drawing on the experience. In a greater sense, reflections provide the basis for further discussion and learning from others as well as one’s own experiences. Reflections serve as the means through which new understandings are constructed and given meaning. In the absence of reflection, learning is stifled. Thus, through our practice of reflection, our learning is solidified and knowledge made concrete. 


“Learning theory and research have consistently concluded that learning opportunities providing a chance to “do” or experience the educational input, result in higher learning gains and retention.”

                                                                                                                       - John G. Richardson, 1


Given these findings in conjunction with the brain-based learning model, the need for schools to involve its students through experiential learning, optimizing both knowledge and growth, is critical for learning.


“[Learning] is a process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”

                                                                                                              -  Ronald E. Hansen, 24     



Hansen, Ronald E. (200, Spring) “The Role of Experience in Learning: Giving Meaning and Authenticity to the Learning Process in Schools.” Journal of Technology Education. Retrieved from:



Kaufman, Eric K., J. Shane Robinson, Kimberly A Bellah, Cindy Akers, Penny Haase-Wittler, and  Lynn Martindal. “Engaging Students with Brain-Based Learning.” Special Report.  Retrieved from:


Richardson, John G. (1994, August). “Learning Best Through Experience.” Journal of Extension. Retrieved from: