Experiential Education Success Tool #1: Give Yourself Structure

Shocking advice for a blog post on experiential learning, isn’t it? Let me explain. In 1938, John Dewey penned Experience and Education, which criticized the free-for-all schools that claimed to educate students through undirected, aimless experience:

“Just because traditional education was a matter of routine in which the plans and programs were handed down from the past, it does not follow that progressive education is a matter of planless improvisation.”

Dewey was a bold philosopher and educator who recognized that while the traditional classroom experience stifled creativity and critical thought, a poorly organized progressive education was just as destructive. For Dewey, the dichotomy of “structure vs. no structure” wasn’t the question. Rather, he asked educators to define a new structure, one that accommodated the interests and strengths of the individual, and allowed them to develop these through increasingly challenging experiences.

Scott Belsky, author of Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision and Reality, proposed that a thoughtfully designed structure is actually what allows creative growth to take place. Put a bunch of athletes on a field, give them a ball, tell them to play something….and all you’ll see is chaos. However, if you explain the rudimentary rules of the game and establish boundaries to play within, great things can happen. The structure unifies creative energy towards a goal, and facilitates the necessary focus to make it happen.

To make the most of your own educational experience, develop a structure that will bring out your best. You can adapt elements of a “traditional” program to suit your own learning style and needs. For example, create accountability by selecting a mentor to check in with, regularly sharing progress towards your goals. Create a learning plan for your experience, identifying specific skills to build and how you’ll develop them. Determine how to assess your progress. Choose a reward that will motivate you to keep at it through the hard times. Finally, decide how you’d like to share and celebrate your learning.

The success of your experiential learning endeavor is partly determined by how you structure your journey. Set yourself up for a great outcome by designing a personalized structure to support your progress.

By Laurah Hagen