Transitioning from Experimental Science to Experiential Science

Vaishnavi Deepak

Scientific literacy is a priceless gold mine. It shapes the present and future of not only individuals but societies as well. With science focusing more on evolution and innovation, it comes as no surprise that its pedagogy is also evolving. Scientific literacy, today, is a combination of knowledge, skills, and attitudes which reflect the traditional learning methods.

As Herbert Spencer rightly mentioned, “In science, the important thing is to modify and change one’s ideas as science advances.” In this decade,  there was a radical shift in the approach towards learning and teaching STEM subjects. The experimental approach is, gradually, being traded for an experiential approach. To decipher the reason behind this  transition, it is important to understand the fundamentals of both methods

Experimental learning focuses more on testing theoretical aspects. A scientist devises experiments on relevant topics, substances or events, to put her/his theories to test. The outcome of her/his experiments may either confirm or contradict his theories. In certain cases, she/he may have to abandon her/his experiments. This type of pedagogy limits teaching to a laboratory centered approach.

children learning science by  experiential learning.

Experiential learning is a teaching strategy that links field, laboratory and classroom experiences with real-life situations and applications Experiential learning also exposes students to real-life experiences when scientific theories are brought to life through a series of applications (not limited to experiments). Field and laboratory activities enable students to focus and reflect on a task,  allowing them to develop a better understanding of the concepts at hand.  

Now, that we have established the basic distinction between both the effective methods, it should not be hard to identify that experiential learning is a more inclusive and practical approach to both teaching and learning. This approach appears to be more effective as it is a combination of many schools of thought, including but not limited to concrete experiences, reflective observations, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.

Experiential learning imparts qualities like cogent thinking, critical reasoning and the ability to make astute observations; thereby, being one of the reasons for it to be implemented in scientific study. Hands-on learning is better than traditional science learning, as it provides industry relatable experience.   Establishing the learning outcome of any topic will help in introducing appropriate hands-on learning activities to students through various experiential disciplines.  This will help students unlearn and restructure their understanding of the concepts of any topic, leaving no room for ineffective learning. 

An added advantage of employing such methods is the piqued interest levels in children.  Hands-on approaches can also be introduced at the higher education level to ensure students get more involved in experiential learning. Irrespective of the learning outcome, providing a reflective, interactive and student-centric method of learning will help students remember the concepts for a longer time.  As Aristotle famously said, “For the things, we have to learn: Before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Achieving the dream of including innovation in every realm of academics is possible, through the implementation of experiential learning.