Experiential Learning - “Learning by Doing”

Ginelle Testa

Experiential Learning - “Learning by Doing”

In your experience, do students learn better through lectures during every class or by switching it up through various activities that give students a chance to reflect and apply what they’re learning? The latter is experiential learning, which is “learning by doing.” It comes from the belief that “all genuine education comes from experience.” (Dewey, 1993)

John Dewey, who established the theory of Experiential Learning, believed that experiences must not exist independently but should build on one another so that students can expand what they already know. However, instructors cannot label all learning as experiential learning. They must expose students to real-world scenarios to apply their learnings (Roberts, 2003). 

There are a variety of ways an instructor can implement experiential learning. Here are some examples (Buhdai & Skipwith, 2022):

  • Simulations

  • Study abroad

  • Video conferencing

  • Vlogs

  • Online journaling

  • Service-leaning 

Labster & the Kolb Learning cycle

While Dewey founded Experiential Learning, David Kolb established the developmental four-stage cycle: (Sharlanova, 2004).

  • Concrete experience

  • Reflective observation

  • Abstract conceptualization

  • Active experimentation

Labster uses experiential learning by exposing students to real-world scenarios through gamified storytelling. Let’s look at each stage of Kolb’s Learning Cycle and how Labster fits within them.

Concrete Experience: Students encounter a situation where they can actively participate, and learning can occur. According to Kolb, students cannot learn just by reading or observing; they must do (Sharlanova, 2004).

  • Ex: Play Labster as a pre-lab experience and read the associated Labster lab manual

Reflective Observation: Students review what they’ve done and tried. They reflect by looking at inconsistencies between experience and understanding. They ask questions like what worked and didn’t work? (Sharlanova, 2004).

  • Ex: Labster embedded quiz questions help students check their understanding of their new understanding, students ask instructors and peers questions, and engage in discussion during class

Abstract Conceptualization: Students create meaning by developing theories to explain their experiences. Generalizations, conclusions, and hypotheses are formed (Sharlanova, 2004).

  • Ex: Students present new knowledge in a report or presentation either working alone or in groups; they may complete a lab report or instructor-created assignment

Active Experimentation: Students apply what they learned throughout this cycle to another situation/learning experience. Sometimes students will fail. Failure should not be seen as a bad thing but rather as an opportunity to restart the cycle and try again (Sharlanova, 2004).

  • Ex: Students apply their new knowledge in a hands-on lab (or in an advanced Labster simulation)

*Process Repeats

experiential learning 4 stage cycle

The student can experience touching all the bases of the learning cycle in a controlled time frame and carry that momentum into the learning cycles of their wider course, with reflective observation being a natural touch point between the two environments. The Labster experience is also something that (educator permitting) students can revisit for a refresher, to consolidate their later learning, and as a means to develop mastery.   

In sum

Experiential learning benefits students by exposing them to real-world scenarios that help cement their classroom learning. Labster can support experiential learning with our virtual lab simulations, quiz questions, theory pages, and more.


Budhai, S. & Skipwith, K. Best Practices in Engaging Online Learners Through Active and Experiential Learning Strategies 

Dewey, J (1933). How we think. Boston, MA: Heath.

Roberts, T. (2003). An Interpretation Of Dewey's Experiential Learning Theory. The University of Florida. Retrieved from: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED481922.pdf

Sharlanova, V. (2004) Experiential Learning. Trakia Journal of Sciences, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp 36-39. Retrieved from: http://www.uni-sz.bg/tsj/volume2_4/experiential%20learning.pdf

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