Using Principles of Experiential Learning to Promote Effective Learning Among English Language Learners

Concurrent Session 7
Streamed Session Research Equity and Inclusion

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

With Experiential Learning in the ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom, diversity mandates a universal approach that features creative discovery and reflection as tools to deeper learning. This "Discovery Session" will review concepts of Experiential Learning applied to the ESL classroom.


Harriette L. Spiegel, Ph.D., has worked in the field of Educational Technology for over 20 years. She has taught computer literacy, online courses in educational technology, educational psychology, educational research, Spanish, and ESL. Her research interests include online teaching and learning, Digital Accessibility, Social-Emotional Learning, Adult Education, and ESL to graduate students and pre-service-teachers .

Extended Abstract

Experiential Learning has been applied to many different subjects and disciplines and in many different forms.  From the traditional show-and tell exercises in the classroom to the cooperative learning (Coop) and service learning in the community to the current strategy of "WTPS" (Write, Think, Pair, Share), teachers have long been using one form or another of Experiential Learning. It is a concept that is just as effective in the online environment, as well. The area of Experiential Learning has consistently been recognized in the research as a valid method of teaching and learning, in both face-to-face and online classrooms. Kolb (1984) wrote: "another reason the theory is called experiential is its intellectual origins in the experiential works of Dewey, Lewin, and Piaget. Taken together, Dewey's philosophical pragmatism, Lewin's social psychology, and Piaget's cognitive-developmental genetic epistemology form a unique perspective on learning and development” (Kolb, 1984, in Kolb, Boyatesis, & Mainelmelis, 1999).

These areas are all pedagogically-relevant topics that transfer to the online environment. I would like to concentrate on the application of Experiential Learning in the ESL classroom, an area that has not had as much focus as the L1 (first language) classroom. For this proposal, my goal is to encourage reflection on experiential learning in the ESL classroom both face-to-face and online.

Experiential Learning (EL) was popularized by Kolb's 1984 Model of Experiential Learning (Centre for Pedagogical Innovation, 2019) in which four phases provide an iterative framework for presenting information, transforming and processing information, and applying information: 

  • In the Concrete Experience phase, students play and move, engaging with the information;
  • In the Reflective Observation phase students process the information through reflection on related "connections, inconsistencies, [and...] prior knowledge";
  • In the Abstract Conceptualization phase, students conceive of "new understandings/ideas..." and form their own impressions of the information;
  • In the Active Experimentation phase, the student purposefully applies the knowledge
  • with new experiences.

Variations of these phases have been practiced by ESL teachers. Teacher (2012) described the philosophy and activities connected to applying experiential learning in the ESL classroom: exposure, participation, internalization, and dissemination (Teacher, 2012). In the ESL (English as a Second Language) classroom, successful teaching is being able to deliver a concept to students in a way that will lead to deeper comprehension through active learning and consequently to successful application in their language learning.

In employing Experiential Learning in their classrooms, teachers should be mindful of the principles for Best Practice for all experiential learning activities, created by the National Society for Experiential Education: Intention, Preparedness & Planning, Authenticity, Reflection, Orientation & Training, Monitoring & Continuous Improvement, Assessment & Evaluation, and Acknowledgement (Cabral, 2019).

"Experience-based, task-based and project-based learning becomes experiential when elements of reflection, support and transfer are present after the learning experience" (Knutsen, 2003). This OLC session will encourage reflection by the audience of the implications of using Experiential Learning in teaching ESL. I will guide the reflection and ensuing discussion with a handout of pertinent points about Experiential Learning.


Cabral, A. C.  (2019). Slide presentation to the University of Tennessee at Martin faculty workshop, August 16, 2019.

 Centre for Pedagogical Innovation (2019). Pedagogy of experiential education. Retrieved at

Knutsen, S.  (2003).  Experiential learning in second-language classrooms.  Canada: TESL  Canada Journal, v. 20, no. 2.


Kolb, D. A., Boyatesis, R. E., & Mainelmelis, C. (1999). Experiential learning theory: Previous research and new directions. Retrieved at

National Society for Experiential Education (2011). Guiding principles of ethical practice.

Teacher, J. (2012). Experiential learning for the ESL classroom - Philosophy and Activities (blog). Retrieved at