What is Experiential Learning and How Can It Help Your Child?

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Experiential Learning refers to non-traditional education that involves, essentially, learning by doing. The process, developed by psychologist David Kolb, requires the student to have a hands-on experience, reflect on the results of that experience, and then to apply this reflection to the lesson again. It typically requires the student to select the area of study for the lesson, and then leads to a “transforming experience” resulting in the creation of a very concrete understanding.

The reflection time during and after the exercise allows the student to connect the lesson to daily life, in addition to finding ways to practically implement their new learning. This process is often facilitated by an educator who asks the student questions, such as:

  • Did you notice. . .
  • Does that happen in life?
  • How can you use that?

While experiential learning can happen without the aid of an educator, it is beneficial to have an experienced guide to help the individual focus on their learning experience. Educators can help these students form concrete connections between visceral experience and abstract concepts. This results in profound and permanent learning.

Why Experiential Learning Can Be So Impactful for students with severe ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and Nonverbal Learning Disorder Students

Many adolescents struggle with the journey toward adulthood. Teens with learning, social, or emotional difficulties may experience additional challenges:

  • struggles with self-esteem
  • difficulty connecting to peers in a meaningful way
  • difficulty interpreting nonverbal social cues
  • anxiety
  • trouble focusing

Traditional academics may not address these issues. Experiential learning can be successful where other approaches fail for 3 specific reasons:

1. Experiential Learning is customized to the student.

Traditional academics is geared toward the majority of the population; adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, Nonverbal Learning Disorder, etc., do not fall into this category. They have different educational needs and may not be successful in a structure that expects everyone to respond in the same way.

Experiential Learning is tailored to the individual student. The very fact of this guarantees a higher level of interest and engagement. It also ensures the practicality of the lesson, as the student has chosen something that they know they need improvement in.  Additionally, the process involves one-on-one instruction. This ensures that the specific needs of the student will be observed and responded to by the educator.

2. Experiential Learning draws concrete connections between a lesson and its practical applications.

Many students with learning, social, or executive functioning deficits struggle with abstract thinking. Part of the reason they may struggle academically is because they are unable to attribute meaning to a concept. Inherent to Experiential Learning is an emphasis on meaning and practicality. A lesson is not complete until the student identifies- with the guidance of their educator- how the task or skill they just accomplished applies to their daily life.

Exploring this process not only shines a light on the task at hand, but teaches an invaluable way of thinking in general. As students practice this type of learning, they can eventually go on to apply this method to other mysteries, as life continues to offer up less formal lessons.

3. Experiential Learning addresses social skill development and executive functioning deficits

Some students with Nonverbal Learning Disorder, ADHD, and Autism Spectrum Disorder are of above average intelligence, and they may be academically successful. On the other hand, they often experience social alienation because of their impulsivity or inability to interpret social cues.

Experiential Learning can be a powerful tool in these situations, allowing a student with an executive function deficit to safely experiment with social interactions. For adolescents in particular, this kind of opportunity at such a tender age can offer an individual insight into how to connect with others. For students who struggle making social connections, providing a safe, nurturing environment to experiment and learn can change the course of their lives.


Experiential Learning can also be used to master a wide range of lessons, from the academic to the social, physical, and technical skills. Since it involves doing, however, it is most effective when the lesson involves action or interaction. The exercise depends on both the student’s engagement and their willingness to try and fail, in addition to the educator creating a safe, nurturing environment.

Download our White Paper to learn more about how experiential learning can help your child

About Vantage Point by Aspiro

Vantage Point is a specialized offshoot of Aspiro Adventure, the program that pioneered wilderness adventure therapy. Vantage Point focuses on helping students with executive function disorders, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Nonverbal Learning Disorders, among others.

The Vantage Point programs are designed to build self-efficacy in our students through overwhelming mastery experiences – our students accomplish goals they never believed possible, which creates a belief that they are capable of changing their own lives for the better. We focus specifically on social dynamics and social skills to help our students connect with others and feel like they can be a part of the world. Experiential Learning is a tenet of our philosophy and our program. Paired with ongoing individual therapy and targeting specific areas for growth, our wilderness therapy programs are proven successful by outcome studies and are overseen by experienced Field Guides and clinical professionals