Experience the Learning

Graduate students learn through hands on experience

By: Taylor Demski

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory defines experiential learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.” One ALEC professor puts the theory into practice by providing experiences for his students that are innovative, engaging and certainly out-of-the-ordinary.

ALEC 603, Experiential Learning, is available for graduate students to enroll in every year during the maymester. Taught by Assistant Professor John Rayfield, Ed.D., the course features a mix of classroom-based learning and outdoor field experience.

“Most college classes revolve around lectures or readings, but in 603, we were climbing 60-feet towers, climbing swinging log bridges, building models, helping build a house, and getting hands-on experiences that help to create new learning,” says Tobin Redwine, doctoral student and academic advisor in the department.

The first few days of class students focus on learning about the theoretical foundations behind experiential learning, including how our brains experience and process knowledge. By the second week of class they have the opportunity to participate in multiple experiential learning labs.

Rayfield takes his students to the TAMU Challenge Works Course, a ropes course designed to foster team-building that includes a rock-wall tower, high ropes elements, as well as team-oriented and leadership building activities on the ground.

“Climbing that tower was intense, we were literally hanging from ropes and relying on your classmates to hold you up, when you are more than 50 feet in the air,” says Redwine.

Students also participate in service-learning with Habitat for Humanity. This past summer, students helped paint a house in College Station and interacted with the future residents.

The course even visited the Blue Bell creamery in Brenham, where the field trip concluded with an ice-cream tasting session.

Rayfield ties all of these labs back to the information he teaches in the classroom. This course allows graduate students to make the connection between theory and real world experience.

“This class gave me more of a framework, a real theoretical framework for experiential learning,” says Travis Irby, a graduate assistant and doctoral student in the department, “I was really surprised how much you did have to apply the experiential learning theories to what you were doing in the service learning labs.”

Experiential learning is simply learning from experience. As a final project in the course, students present their own experiential learning program that suit their job or major. In only eight days of coursework, Rayfield’s students are able to come full circle and benefit from the knowledge of experiential learning.

“I was able to design an experience that I implemented into AGCJ 105,  a class I was teaching in the summer session, and I strengthened that experience for my students by learning the theory, science and practice behind how our brain learns and experiences things,” says Redwine.

Rayfield also notes the opportunity to implement learning from this course into other teaching opportunities, and the impact that this course can have on future students.

“The neatest thing is you have the opportunity to impact someone who is going to teach others. You see your teaching multiply exponentially,” Rayfield says.

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