Experience + Reflection = Experiential Learning


Sometimes I’m afraid that if I tell people (1) that I subscribe to experientialism in the classroom and (2) that I am a sexuality educator, they will think that I teach about sex by actually showing my students how to have it. I have no idea where others’ imaginations take them when I say what I teach, but I usually get some sort of interesting reaction. Sure, experientialism requires an experience, but that experience is not going to be trying out a Kama Sutra sex position.

David Kolb developed the Experiential Learning Theory in 1984, and determined there to be four requirements:

  • First, there had to be a concrete experience. Easy!
  • Second, there needed to be observation and reflection, for example, in the form of a class discussion.
  • Third, there had to be abstract conceptualization and generalization into logically sound theories.
  • Fourth, there needed to be a testing phase to actually utilize the theories to make decisions and solve problems (Knowles, Holton, & Swanson, 2012).

Now, in sexuality education, we can take our students into the third stage but not the fourth. We can never require our students to go out and actually perform the correct steps to put on a condom, that’s crossing the line.

So in sexuality education we as instructors basically do two-fold, (1) create a learning experience, and (2) facilitate discussion. This is our model of experientialism.

Examples of an experiential approach in sexuality could include lessons like the condom line-up, STD/HIV Handshake game, among other such activities. A professor of mine once said something along the lines of “anyone can create an experience, but learning does not occur unless there is reflection about that experience.” It is so important to build time in to one’s lesson plan for processing and reflecting. If this part does not occur, then you leave your student’s high and dry. You may have given them a fun experience, but you didn’t fulfill your job as a teacher. After each activity, make sure to allot some time for reflection!


When done in the following way, this reflection is considered to adhere to the Socratic Method. The Socratic Method utilizes discussion as the primary learning tool. This discussion is facilitated using a line of questioning to help the students create new understanding through interaction with the concept and with their peers. In this model, the students and teacher are all active learners (Estes, Mintz, & Gunter, 2011). Check out this video to understand how to implement the Socratic Method!



Knowles, M. S., Holton III, E. F., & Swanson, R. A. (2012). The Adult Learner (7thed.). UK: Elsevier.

Estes, T. H., Mintz, S. L., & Gunter, M. A. (2011). Instruction: A Model’s Approach(6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

By Sarah McMurchie