My first few years of teaching were very challenging. I had many students who appeared
unmotivated. They would talk while I was giving a lecture. I strongly desired to try a new approach.
One new approach involves experiential learning. Experiential learning may be part of an ideal
Experiential learning can be defined simply as any activity in which the student gains direct
knowledge of something as a participant or observer. A good example of the experiential learning
approach comes from social psychology courses I have taught. I could have just lectured about
theories and research findings related to jury decision making. Instead, I decided to have students
participate as mock jurors. They read a summary of a court case and then deliberated to reach a
verdict. I felt that this experience would make it more interesting and meaningful for the students.
They might be more motivated to think carefully about relevant theories and research findings. They
also may like social psychology to a greater degree.
Experiential learning techniques may be partly beneficial because they foster a more favorable
attitude towards a subject matter. Clements (1995) compared two groups of students taking a
developmental psychology course. One of the groups (labeled the experiential group) had an additional
activity involving the observation of people for 1-2 hours. Examples of these observations include
observing newborns at a hospital and parent-child interactions. This experiential group also had class
presentations of this activity. The other group (labeled the lecture group) did not have this additional
observation activity. However, both group had another observation assignment. During the time the
experiential group had the class presentations of the observations, the lecture group had the time
devoted to lecture and videotapes. All students evaluated the course on a number of dimensions. One
of these dimensions pertained to the interest in the subject, and another pertained to how valuable the
subject matter was. The average rating (mean) for increased interest in the subject matter was higher in
the experiential group than in the lecture group. Moreover, the experiental group had a higher average
rating than the lecture group with respect to how valuable the subject matter was. These differences
were statistically significant. However, there was no statistically significant difference between the two
groups with respect to final grades.
There are some alternative explanations for the findings. First, the participants did not appear to be
randomly assigned to the two groups. The experiental group appears to be students in the development
course after the revision (added experiential component) in the class was made. Thus, it is unclear how
these students may differ from the students who were in the lecture group (before the revision was
made). Second, it is possible that added time devoted to lecture and videtapes in the lecture group
decreased interest in the subject matter. Although this seems unlikely, the explanation cannot be ruled
Experimental learning may also affect learning. Hakeem (2001) compared two groups of students.
Some of the students were in a class that had an active-learning project, and others were in a class
without the active-learning project. All the students took a particular business statistics course. An
example of one of the possible projects for one semester is the collection of data from students
pertaining to their GPA and hours watching television each week. There were two examinations for
the study. One of the exams involved descriptive statistics, and the other involved confidence intervals
and hypothesis tests. There was no statistically significant difference between the two groups on the
exam involving the descriptive statistics. In contrast, the average score on the other exam was higher
for the group with the active-learning project than for the group without the project.
The difference in results for the two exams may reflect differences in relevance. The active-learning
project may have been more relevant to learning the material for the exam involving hypothesis tests.
This may have been true because the project required the testing of hypotheses and writing a report
with summarizing their results.
There may be other interpretations of the findings. We do not know how the two groups may have
differed on such factors as ability or motivation. The idea that the two groups may not have been
equivalent with respect to ability or motivation cannot be completely ruled out. However, the fact that
there was no statistically significant difference between the two groups on the exam involving
descriptive statistics casts doubt on this explanation. Another explanation is that the students with the
active-learning project may have spent more time studying than the students without the active-learning
project. It is not clear from the article whether the students in the two groups differed in the effort
they made in studying the material. It would be good to compare an active-learning group with another
group that did a project that involved less active learning.
Project-centered education is a form of experiential learning. Project-centered learning is defined
here as any project involving the completion of a creative product, making an important
real-world decision, or solving a real-world problem. Project-centered education can be viewed
as one element in an ideal education system.
There may be many project based learning examples. The mock jury project described above is a
good example of an important decision that students could be asked to make. Other projects could
involve creating a fundraising letter or telephone script, providing solutions to conflicts in the
workplace, creating a board game to demonstrate knowledge of a subject matter, creating a job
advertisement, or writing an article for a newspaper.
Project-centered education may be the ideal solution to unmotivated students. It may be a
way of motivating unmotivated students.
There are several reasons why project-centered education may be beneficial. First, project-centered
education may create a win-win situation for teachers and students. Students may be bored and
confused listening to lectures. Also, because it may take a great deal of effort for teachers to present
polished and informative lectures, project-centered education may be a more cost effective and
pleasant approach for teachers.
Second, project-centered education may motivate students because it fosters meaning in educational
experiences. Project-centered education may be meaningful because it makes one's educational
experiences seem more relevant. Students may see how the concepts are related to everyday life.
Moreover, project-centered education may be meaningful because it involves creative thinking.
Creative thinking may be meaningful because it involves self-expression. We can express our own
ideas, values, and interests in creative products. Finally, project-centered education may be
meaningful because it can be very challenging. If it is very challenging, it may absorb one's attention
and reduce boredom. Thus, project-centered education may be an ideal solution to a lack of
meaning in education.
Third, project-centered education may be beneficial because it may demonstrate a better
understanding of concepts. Being able to apply concepts or findings to solve a problem can
demonstrate a better conceptual understanding than a multiple-choice or short-answer test.
Fourth, if project-centered education involves solving real-world problems, it could foster greater
helping. People may see how much they enjoy solving problems that could help others.
Clements, A. D. (1995). Experiential-learning activities in undergraduate developmental
psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 22, 115-118.
Hakeem, S. A. (2001). Effect of experiential learning in business statistics. Journal of Education for