The experiential or transformative learning associated with service-learning takes place primarily outside of the classroom, which means it is often less predictable and less structured. It can be difficult, at times, for practitioners to structure a learning environment due to this unpredictability of experiential learning opportunities; however, it is precisely this lack of structure that offers potential for transformation.
Further Reading: How To Facilitate Transformative Learning
One helpful tool that can aid experiential education practitioners is a set of guidelines developed by the National Society for Experiential Education (NSEE) called the Principles of Good Practice. These principles can be used by any program engaging in experiential education to maximize student learning opportunities. The eight principles are: intention, authenticity, planning, clarity, monitoring and assessment, reflection, evaluation, and acknowledgment.
Below are in-depth descriptions of each point, as adapted from the NSEE.
All parties must be clear from the outset the benefit of the experiential educational approach, and the knowledge that will be demonstrated, applied, or result from it. Intention is also the purposefulness that enables experience to become knowledge. It is this deep sense of purpose that drives an experiential education program’s goals, objectives, and activities, and that ultimately define the experience.
2. Preparedness and Planning
Participants must be provided a foundation that will support their learning. Educators will need to identify intentions and adhere to goals, objectives, and activities as they are described. There will also need to be a plan set in place that is understood by all parties, one that should also be flexible in order to allow for any necessary adaptations that come from the experience.
Further Reading: 4 Outcomes of Transformative Learning and How to Achieve Them
The experience must have a real-world context and be applied to a certain setting for added meaning. This means, specifically in relation to service-learning, that courses should be designed in collaboration with all members of the program (i.e. students, teachers, and community partners).
Reflection transforms simple experience into a true learning experience. The learner must test their assumptions, beliefs, decisions, and actions, and then weigh those considerations keeping in mind past learning and future implications. This reflective process is integral to all kinds of experiential learning, and can help educators adjust the experience and measure outcomes.
Further reading: Defining Critical Reflection
5. Orientation and Training
Providing information and a thorough orientation will help students receive the full value of the experience, and will help them manage their expectations. This includes any background information on the projects, the history or cultural context, and the environment in which the experience will operate. Once that baseline of knowledge is established, certain ongoing development opportunities should also be included to help expand the learner’s appreciation, context, and skills associated with the work.
6. Monitoring and Continuous Improvement
Experiential education is dynamic and ever-changing. All parties involved have a responsibility for ensuring that the experience, as it is in process, continues to provide the richest learning possible. This means constant and open dialogue on the experience, as well as finding adequate evaluation tools from which to monitor and improve the experience.
Further Reading: Enhancing Democratic Engagement in Service Learning Courses
7. Assessment and Evaluation
Outcomes and processes should be systematically documented in a way that can be widely understood. This form of assessment will develop and refine specific learning goals and quality objectives that were identified during the planning stages of the experience. This point also refers to a more comprehensive evaluation of the experiential process, and how it compares with the initially-stated goals and objectives.
Further Reading: The DEAL Model and Evaluation of Reflections
This final point represents a recognition of learning and impact that occurs throughout the experience, which can be achieved through reporting, documentation and sharing of accomplishments. All parties should be included in the recognition of progress and accomplishment. In a sense, this celebration of learning and impact will then provide closure and sustainability to the experience.
While these points may at times appear vague regarding program implementation, they nonetheless provide a skeleton of experiential education and learning pillars to keep in mind when approaching new groups or new programs.
Educators can use them to guide their experiential education programs, and as a baseline to inform their individualized facilitation of service-learning groups.
For more information, please see National Society for Experiential Education’s website at: https://www.nsee.org
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