Experiential Education is one of the four approaches – alongside High Scope, Reggio Emilia and the Te Whariki – that have been highlighted by the OECD in the Starting Strong project. Today the Experiential Education Model and its process-oriented approach has inspired practitioners, policy makers and researchers in about 20 countries all over the world, from Finland to South-Africa, from Ecuador to Australia and Japan. The Experiential Education Model is part of the curriculum in most of the Professional Bachelor programmes for Early Childhood Education and Preschool education at University Colleges in Flanders. This success is due to its conceptualization of ‘well-being’ and ‘involvement’ (intrinsically motivated mental activity) as key indicators of quality. Both serve as guides to improve the quality of provision and to promote social-emotional development and deep-level-learning in children. It is typical for the process-oriented approach that the criteria for quality embrace what worldwide has been recognized as core aspects of excellence in education and care settings. The Centre for Experiential Education is based at the University of Leuven (KU Leuven, Belgium).
Where it all started
Experiential Education is an innovative project that started in 1976 and laid the foundation for this Research & Development Centre. Its body of expertise can be related to the development and exploitation of the ‘process-oriented approach’ as developed within the client-centered therapy (C. Rogers, E. Gendlin).
Aims and scope
The ambition of Experiential Education model is to contribute to the emotional health and lifelong learning of people. More specifically, we aim that any form of education and care should realize the following outcomes:
- Children that grow up to emotional healthy adults that are resilient in life;
- Children that grow up in harmony with others and the environment (linked-ness);
- Children that grow up to competent adults in a wide range of domains;
- Nurture and support the exploratory drive and curiosity of children.
How we do it
To realize this, the Experiential Education Model use the process-oriented approach, meaning that in everything one does, we try to put ourselves in the place of the other and try to articulate what goes on and is happening on the other side, using a meticulous and empathic ‘reconstruction’ of experiences. It’s an enhanced form of empathy, it is the role taking capacity that allows us to get in touch with the other and to imagine how he/she is experiencing a particular situation. What we obtain from this advanced form of ‘empathy’ covers all dimensions: feelings, perceptions, cognition and the conative (motives and intentions). The key is to take the perspective of the participants into account and from there try to understand how the pedagogical environment can be optimized or development can be supported. Based on the Experiential Education model, concepts, tools, trainings and both qualitative and quantitative research practices are developed. These guarantee that children’s perspectives are taken into account in a systematic way.
Research & development topics
The Centre for Experiential Education focuses on the following research and development topics:
(2) research on conditions in the context which determine the levels of well-being and involvement in children, whereby concepts as ‘adult-style’, the ’10 action points’, factors influencing well-being and involvement ’ are key variables;
(3) development of instruments for assessment of deep level learning in children in the domains of self-organization and entrepreneurship, communication skills, physical knowledge, social-emotional competence, science and technology, creativity and the basic attitude of ‘linkedness’;
(4) development of instruments and scenarios for internal quality control starting from the participants’ perspective.
The Centre is active in a broad array of educational and care settings: child care, pre-primary, primary, secondary and higher education, in-service training and elderly care.
What makes the EXE-approach unique?
The Experiential Education model has a lot to offer with regard to the creation of a powerful learning environment and the understanding and assessment of sustainable development. But its major contribution lays in the discovery and conceptualization of well-being and involvement as key indicators of process quality. ‘How are children doing?’ is the question that comes first. This is the most conclusive way to assess the quality of any educational or care setting. Even how limited it may be, any increase in the levels of well-being and involvement means children are getting emotionally stronger and are developing at a deeper level within the areas of development that are addressed while they are engaged. With these two measures teachers get the beacons to maximize their impact for the benefit of children today and the adults they become. An asset of this process-oriented approach is that it gives practitioners immediate feedback on the impact of their approach, it is relevant for any part of the curriculum and provides direct feedback.
- Samuelsson, I.P., Sheridan, S., & Williams, P. (2006). Five preschool curricula: comparative perspective, in: International Journal of Early Childhood, 38 (1).
- OECD (2004). Five curriculum outlines.
- Laevers, F. (2011). Experiential Education: Making Care and Education More Effective Through Well-Being and Involvement, in: ChildEncyclopedia.