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Experiential learning (ExL) is the process of learning through experience, and is more narrowly defined as "learning through reflection on doing".[1] Hands-on learning can be a form of experiential learning, but does not necessarily involve students reflecting on their product.[2][3][4] Experiential learning is distinct from rote or didactic learning, in which the learner plays a comparatively passive role.[5] It is related to, but not synonymous with, other forms of active learning such as action learning, adventure learning, free-choice learning, cooperative learning, service-learning, and situated learning.[6]

Shimer College students learning to cook by cooking, 1942.

Experiential learning is often used synonymously with the term "experiential education", but while experiential education is a broader philosophy of education, experiential learning considers the individual learning process.[7] As such, compared to experiential education, experiential learning is concerned with more concrete issues related to the learner and the learning context.

The general concept of learning through experience is ancient. Around 350 BC, Aristotle wrote in the Nicomachean Ethics "for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them".[8] But as an articulated educational approach, experiential learning is of much more recent vintage. Beginning in the 1970s, David A. Kolb helped develop the modern theory of experiential learning, drawing heavily on the work of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Jean Piaget.[9]

Experiential learning has significant teaching advantages. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline (1990), states that teaching is of utmost importance to motivate people. Learning only has good effects when learners have the desire to absorb the knowledge. Therefore, experiential learning requires the showing of directions for learners.[10]

Experiential learning entails a hands-on approach to learning that moves away from just the teacher at the front of the room imparting and transferring their knowledge to students. It makes learning an experience that moves beyond the classroom and strives to bring a more involved way of learning.