Review of “The Power of Experiential Education”

By: Brook Sattler, PhD, CPREE multi-campus coordinator

In the article–“The Power of Experiential Education”–Janet Eyler (2009), a prominent scholar in experiential education, argues that one challenge of liberal education is preparing students to transfer learning to new context. She claims that in traditional education students spend significant time learning content from a book or from an education . For example through co-ops, internships, and service learning, students apply theory to practice and gain real experience.

While she boasts the value of experiential education, she emphasizes that students gain more out of the experience when there is purposeful reflection. In the her guidelines for creating high-quality experiential programs, she calls out reflection as one of the most important–

“The most critical factor for achieving powerful learning outcomes from experiential-learning programs is the inclusion of opportunities for feedback and reflection. Challenging, continuous, context-appropriate reflection turns work experience into learning experience. It is easy to underestimate how intensive reflection must be in order for it to have an impact; it is not unusual to find faculty members who believe their program provides adequate reflection even though the effects on students fall short” (p. 30).

In concluding this call for more purposeful and “intense” reflection in higher education, she offers implications for a variety of people:

  • Use Kolb’s reflection cycle
  • Carefully plan and embedded reflection into your teaching
  • “departments need to take ownership by placing faculty in charge of formulating goals for experiential education and facilitating internship seminars and service-learning classes” (p. 31)
  • …and many more

Overall, this article provides good argumentation about foundational reasoning for experiential education and how to even further improve experiential education through “continuous, well-structured reflection opportunities to help students link experience and learning throughout the course of their placements” (p. 30). In this theory this practice of purposefully and continuously supporting students reflection sounds ideal, it is important to remember a previous review about the reflection “structure trap” in service learning. This dissertation work suggests that so structured and rigid reflection interferes the already organic reflection, causing a feeling of fake or invaluable reflection.


Boswell, L. (2010). The Structure Trap. Students’ Perceptions of Reflection on a Co-curricular Immersion Service-Learning Trip.   (Doctoral dissertation). Humboldt State University, Arcata, CA.

Eyler, J. (2009). The Power of Experiential Education, Liberal Education, 24-31.