Experiential Learning in the 21st Century: The Role, Purpose and Value of Work-Based Learning

By Stone, James R. | The Agricultural Education Magazine, May/June 2014 | Go to article overview

Experiential Learning in the 21st Century: The Role, Purpose and Value of Work-Based Learning


Stone, James R., The Agricultural Education Magazine


Power of Experiential Learning Experiential learning or learning by do- ing has a long history in the United States. Colonial appren- ticeship programs such as those that shaped our nation's leaders like Ben- jamin Franklin were certainly one form of what we now call experien- tial learning. In the mid-19th century, experiential learning as an accepted form of pedagogy began to appear on college campuses, especially in the professional schools (Lewis & Williams, 1994). By the early part of the 20th century, scholars like John Dewey began to challenge the tra- ditional approaches to teaching and learning that held sway in public edu- cation. His most noted articulation of his perspectives came in Democracy and Education (Dewey, 1916). Later he laid out experiential learning as a powerful pedagogy in Experience in Education (Dewey, 1938). It is inter- esting if not ironic that Dewey was no fan of the vocational education of his day with its focus, narrow in his view, on skills training. He was however a proponent of learning through work or experiential education.

Experiential education is not a pedagogy unique to career-techni- cal education (CTE) classes. Sci- ence teachers can engage students in experiments testing water qual- ity in their community; social stud- ies teachers can have students write oral histories of their families; Eng- lish teachers can have students write books for elementary school children working with graphic arts students to illustrate the text, and so forth. The inclusion of senior projects, one ap- proach to experiential learning, has become common across the United States. Service learning, another manifestation of experiential learn- ing, has gained support in states and school districts as well.

Agricultural education, too, has a long history of experiential education through supervised agricultural edu- cation (SAE). However, few fami- lies and students live on farms in the 21st century, limiting traditional ap- proaches to SAE. Perhaps in recogni- tion of this, Phipps & Osborne (1988) defined experiential learning in agri- cultural education as encompassing all practical agricultural activities of educational value conducted by stu- dents outside of class and lab instruc- tion time or on school-released time for which systematic instruction and supervision are provided by teacher, parents, employers and others. Clark, Threeton and Ewing (2010) provide a comprehensive introduction to the possibilities of experiential learning in CTE.

CTE and especially agricultural education has the advantage of ac- cess to authentic workplaces where the curriculum can play out Dewey's notion of learning through occupations (Dewey, 1938). As one form of expe- riential learning, work-based learn- ing (WBL) offers a unique opportunity to more than engage learners; it is a nec- essary component of college and ca- reer readiness.

College and Career Readiness

College and career readiness (CCR) has become the new buzz word to define education reform. From President Obama to most gov- ernors to all manner of public inter- est advocacy organizations there is a recognition that public education has to be about more than just moving students on to the next level of edu- cation, i.e. college.

Stone and Lewis (2012) provide a framework for more clearly de fi n- ing what college and career readi- ness means. To be college and career ready, they argue that a high school graduate must have mastery of three kinds of skills. Academic knowledge is the most obvious, especially the occupational expression of academ- ics; the ability use academic knowl- edge to solve authentic problems. The second skill set includes two kinds of employability skills, often called 'soft skills.' These skills range from a basic understanding of how to act in an adult environment (e.g., work in teams, interact with supervi- sors) to good oral and written com- munication skills to more complex behavioral attributes like persistence and diligence. …

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