The importance of experience in education has always been the subject of philosophical debates. These debates between empiricists and rationalists have been going on for quite some time. Rationalists are of the view that knowledge acquired through senses is unreliable and learning can only be done through reasoning. On the other hand, empiricists believe knowledge is acquired through empirical impressions and concepts that cannot be learnt without being experienced (Evans, 1992, p. 35). This debate was however resolved by Kant who argues that both experience and rationality are necessary in learning. John Dewey was an American philosopher of the twentieth century and he also contributed to the debate on the learning process. In his book Experience and Education, Dewey (1938), he stated, “the belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative” (p. 25). This famous quote has been evaluated and referred to regularly in the debate on learning through experience.
According to Dewey (1938) experiences can only be termed as educative if they lead to further intellectual and moral growth. In order for experience to be termed as educative, both the community and the individual have to benefit from the said experience. The experience has to contribute to growth in curiosity, sense of purpose, and initiative in the learner. He was of the view that traditional education was hierarchical and therefore undemocratic in nature. According to him, in order to produce well informed, thoughtful and democratic students, learners need to participate in all aspects of the school program and gain the experience. Eventually, a learner has to reflect on the experience for it to positively contribute towards his/her knowledge quest.
The above philosophy though formulated a number of centuries ago, could still find relevance in today’s educational system. Education systems now encompass different approaches when passing knowledge to learners. Aspects of the system of learning suggested by Dewey can fit into the experiential mode of education. Experiential education simply means learning by doing and in this form of learning; the learner is expected to learn through experience. He is then expected to follow up the experience by reflecting upon the process, therefore being able to understand it (Lewin, 1952, p. 56).
In experiential learning, roles for both students and teachers shift. Teachers are supposed involve their students in decision-making or in problem solving, responsibilities that normally belong to them. Moreover, a teacher is supposed to initiate the transfer of learning from a class setting to a real world scenario. This in turn ensures that students ‘learn from experience’. This shift of roles is sometimes referred to as a student-centered curriculum (Goodlad, 1984, p. 24). This because in this method, the students assume the central role making the teacher’s job to...