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Experience Learning: Answering Your Basic Questions

Our Experience Learning initiative is off to a fine start, and we’re hearing plenty of questions from faculty who are interested but not quite sure how to participate.

We aim for Experience Learning to transform academic life on our campus, providing exciting teaching and learning opportunities for students and faculty. We expect to see the benefits reflected in our retention and graduation rates too.

Christopher Lavan

Christopher Lavan

Experience Learning Director Christopher Lavan joined us in January.

He and Matthew Theriot, associate provost for teaching and learning innovation, will work with the staff of our Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center and Office of Service-Learning to guide the initiative and help faculty discover ways to incorporate Experience Learning into the courses they teach.

Here, Christopher and Matthew answer some of the common questions we hear about Experience Learning:

What is Experience Learning?

Experience Learning is based on the educational approach known as experiential learning—allowing students to learn by doing and by solving problems. It was developed as our new Quality Enhancement Plan, a critical part of our reaccreditation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Much experiential learning is already taking place in classrooms and laboratories across our campus. We want to learn more about the work already taking place, look for ways to support it, and encourage more faculty to incorporate these types of activities into their coursework.

What types of activities are considered experiential learning?

Experiential learning can take many forms and fit into almost any discipline.

Some fields of study lend themselves to apprenticeships, clinical experiences, or field work. Many students can further their knowledge and prepare for the workforce through internships, practicum placements, student teaching, or service-learning. Some instructors use simulations, gaming, or role-playing to reinforce concepts. Undergraduate research, study abroad, and volunteering are also forms of experiential learning.

How do I know if my classroom project fits the definition of Experience Learning?

We’ve defined four broad learning outcomes for Experience Learning:

  • Students are engaged in the learning process and develop a desire to be lifelong learners.
  • Students use their knowledge, values, and skills to solve real-world problems.
  • Students work collaboratively with others.
  • As part of the process, students engage in structured reflection—thinking critically about what they’re doing and how they might do it better.

How does this type of learning benefit students?

Hands-on learning is fun and engaging. It allows classroom lessons to take hold and sink in. It can help us hook students on learning.

Research shows that students who are excited about their course work tend to do better in their classes, have greater self-esteem, stay in school, and graduate. They’re more apt to become critical thinkers and lifelong learners. And, with the real-world experiences they gain, they leave college more prepared for the job market and are more attractive to employers.

What’s in it for me?

As faculty members, we teach because we want to see students learn. Through Experience Learning, we see our students test concepts, grasp understanding, and develop original thoughts, which is extremely rewarding.

Will it mean more work?

There is some added work involved any time you try something new or change the approach to what you’re doing. Often the biggest commitment comes in planning and laying the groundwork for the projects your students will undertake. Once you’ve developed the structure for students, you step into more of a coaching role, advising students as they work and helping them process the lessons they are learning.

How can I learn more about adding Experience Learning into my courses?

Our Tennessee Teaching and Learning Center has offered a variety of workshops and programs about Experience Learning.

Currently, you can sign up for a two-hour workshop, “Collaborating in the Classroom,” which will be offered on March 9 and 10. Other Experience Learning workshops and programming will be announced soon. The TennTLC staff can also schedule consultations and mentoring sessions to help you get started. We will be offering teaching grants, faculty development programs, and many other resources to help you design or redesign a course.

For more details, contact Christopher at clavan@utk.edu or 865-974-3867 or TennTLC Director Taimi Olsen at tolsen@utk.edu or 865-974-3933.

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