|THE VALUE OF EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING|
| Project-Centered Education
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 education system.
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 out.
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