What is Experiential Learning?
When I was a young student, history was one of my favorite school subjects to learn. I was always fascinated by the past, and loved learning about momentous events in the past that have shaped our world today. My history teacher Mr. Kennedy was an extremely energetic and passionate teacher who loved to talk about World War II. He made learning history interesting and engaging, but there was a general feeling amongst the classroom that having to memorize important dates and information was sometimes overwhelming.
One day, Mr. Kennedy told us we would be spending a day at a WWII site. It was an unexpected surprise, and once we arrived, we were greeted by tour guides dressed in what appeared to be a soldier’s WWII uniform. All of the students spent the day interacting with real-life artefacts, weapons of war, and re-enacting procedures necessary for survival against incoming air raids. To this day, I think back on that school trip with fondness. It reinvigorated my passion and interests in history that I had never experienced before in the classroom, and I had understood the severity of living through such a time period.
That particular school trip was a form of experiential learning that was extremely impactful to my education as an adolescent. I was able to approach learning in a hands-on fashion that was fun and edifying at the same time. It made me realize that students can only learn so much within the confines of a classroom environment, and expecting a child to develop important life skills solely through didactic teaching is simply unrealistic.
This article will discuss the importance of experiential learning in China. Topics include a discussion on a plethora of activities that help develop a range of skills that are critical during their adolescence. Activities can range from organising a school trip at the zoo to having students conduct science experiments. Regardless, experiential learning activities should be chosen with a purpose and desired outcome for the student, such as developing critical thinking, creativity, and a deeper understanding of concepts. Ultimately, the goal of experiential learning is to provide students with memorable experiences that are fun and impactful, but equally help them acquire and retain knowledge. So what role can China play in providing your child with incredible learning experiences?
Experiential Learning in China
Historically, China’s education culture has been known to overemphasize didactic and rote learning as preferred approaches to pedagogy (Li, & Cutting, 2011). These traditional approaches to learning are deeply embedded in East Asian culture, and the literature indicates that they deepen understanding of concepts (Tan, 2010). However, the literature also reports that it can negatively impede students’ ability to develop independent and analytical thinking, which are more so achieved through experiential learning (Malatji, 2016). However, within the past 30 years, new Chinese education policies are advocating and integrating experiential learning pedagogy for students (Wu, 2021). Experiential education in China presents an incredible opportunity for students to take advantage of the vast resources, incredible landscapes, and cultures that the country has to offer. For example, why simply learn about mountains when you can be surrounded by them instead! Due to the country’s sheer geographic size alone, experiential learning in China offers unlimited adventure, in which students can apply theoretical ideas to practice. Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of experiential learning in China, in particular its role in encouraging sustainable development, service-learning, and project-based learning.
Sustainable Development in China
Today’s current generation of young students represent our future, and are one of society’s main agents of change and progress. Sustainable development realizes the importance of growing our economies and maintaining healthy societies without compromising our planet’s environment. Consequently, It is important to empower the young generation with the knowledge, values, and skills necessary to positively transform themselves and society.
We can strive for sustainable development by imparting knowledge upon students via experiential learning. Experiential learning in China promotes experiences that have a relevance to daily life, and this includes activities such as volunteering, field trips, and working internships for major corporations in large cities like Shanghai and Beijing. Extant literature has shown that it is important for students to have real-world experiences from a young age (Saunders, & Juric, 2001). Real-world experiences provide a range of benefits, including the development of students’ agency; being able to apply practical skills; and having an overall awareness of the importance of global sustainability. Sustainable development can only occur by ensuring students develop the confidence and competence to think and behave critically.
When I was little, I didn’t have a care in the world about what it took for the food in front of me to end up on my dinner plate – all I cared about was that I was hungry and needed food! It was only until my school took me to a local vegetable garden that I realized how much work was required so that spoiled children like me didn’t go hungry by the end of the day. Field trips in China, such as learning about sustainable farming and food production, can enlighten students on the importance of community problem solving and environmental improvement. Studies have shown that these types of learning can increase awareness of sustainable food systems and foster an interest in agriculture amongst students (Bayo, Hart, Sadler, & Zhao, 2014)
Service-learning in China
Service-learning is an educational approach in which students engage in activities that help them reflect on important topics, theories, and practices that are important for sustainable development, such as community service, social change, philanthropy, and community development. As the name suggests, service-learning in China enables students to engage in services and professions that teach them important characteristics such as the duty of civic responsibility, creating action, and being contributing members of society. Service-learning can also raise awareness to services in China that are essential to running its society, such as agriculture and farming. Let’s take a look at a case study, in which WildChina helped students navigate through unfamiliar terrains and understand the importance of keeping our environment clean.
Case Study: Guangdong Survival Skills Camp
In October 2021, WildChina Education and Discovery Points collaborated to provide students with a camp in the scenic province of Guangdong, in which they soon learned critical survival skills such as building fires, purifying water, conducting first-aid, and cooking outdoors. The students were also involved in physical activities such as camping, hiking, and kayaking, under the guidance of a former Olympic gold medalist.
Throughout the course of this camp, students had completed these activities and consequently improved their physical and cognitive skills. In addition, the students understood the importance of keeping their environment clean by not littering and leaving any traces of litter behind. Overall, students participated in a learning experience that was deeply memorable and taught them valuable life skills that are essential to survival.
Despite the preference for didactic learning, project-based learning in China boasts a 30 year history (Zhou, & Zhu, 2009). Current research has shown the effectiveness of project-based learning in helping students apply the theoretical knowledge given to them in the classroom to solve real world issues (Veselov, Pljonkin, & Fedotova, 2019). When constructing an effective PBL activity, it is important that the teacher decides the content of the project carefully, guiding the students to critically answer meaningful questions and accomplish tasks that will help develop their knowledge and social skills. These activities can range from having students get involved in workshops, lab research, and even learning how to cook!
In order for your child to receive an all-rounded educational experience, memorization and learning to read does not suffice. In the 21st century, it is important that students are competent in skills such as problem solving, group collaborations, and innovative thinking. This helps strengthen their character, raise confidence, and reduce anxiety.
WildChina offers children the chance to take full advantage of China’s rich ecosystem and resources. Our team has carefully curated a range of different PBL activities all across the country. If you live in a metropolitan city such as Shanghai and Beijing, you don’t even have to leave! Both Shanghai and Beijing offer a wide variety of countrysides, beautiful rivers, and hills for students to venture into. If that’s not what you are looking for, WildChina also facilitates PBL workshops across schools, universities, and other locations situated in these cities.
Coming from a small island country in Europe, I cannot imagine the types of exhilarating adventurous school trips that students in China can experience! This article acknowledges that experiential learning in China can be leveraged to its fullest. However, beyond the fun and adventure, it is important to remind students of the densely populated and large country that they inhabit, and the skills required to navigate through and preserve said country. It is vital that students develop the essential real-life skills required to help make the country and world a better place.
Bayo, D., Hart, S., Sadler, B., & Zhao, X. (2014). Teaching Elementary Age Students about Sustainable Food Production through a Successful Local School-University Student Club Partnership. In HORTSCIENCE (Vol. 49, No. 9, pp. S333-S334).
Li, X., & Cutting, J. (2011). Rote learning in Chinese culture: Reflecting active Confucian-based memory strategies. In Researching Chinese learners (pp. 21-42). Palgrave Macmillan, London.
Malatji, K. S. (2016). Moving away from Rote Learning in the University Classroom: The Use of Cooperative Learning to Maximise Students’ Critical Thinking in a Rural University of South Africa. Journal of Communication, 7(1), 34–42. https://doi.org/10.1080/0976691x.2016.11884881
Saunders, B., & Juric, R. (2001). The importance of real-world experience in student learning. Proceedings of the 23rd International Conference on Information Technology Interfaces, 2001. ITI 2001. https://doi.org/10.1109/iti.2001.938007
Tan, P. L. (2011). Towards a Culturally Sensitive and Deeper Understanding of “Rote Learning” and Memorisation of Adult Learners. Journal of Studies in International Education, 15(2), 124–145. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315309357940
Veselov, G. E., Pljonkin, A. P., & Fedotova, A. Y. (2019). Project-based learning as an effective method in education. Proceedings of the 2019 International Conference on Modern Educational Technology – ICMET 2019. https://doi.org/10.1145/3341042.3341046
Wu, J. (2021). Inheritance and Development: The Characteristics and Trends of Experiential Education and Training in China in the Past 30 Years. 2021 2nd Asia-Pacific Conference on Image Processing, Electronics and Computers. https://doi.org/10.1145/3452446.3452646
Zhou, G., & Zhu, J. (2009). Teaching Reconstruction: A Review on Thirty-Year Project-Based Learning in China [J]. Research in Higher Education of Engineering, 2.