What Is Experiential Education?

Experiential education is based on experiential learning, which means “learning from experience or learning by doing” (Lewis and Williams, 1994, p5)


Experiential education is not limited to a specific medium, and is used in a wide range of topics, including but not limited to service learning, outdoor education, and group-based learning.


“Experiential education first immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes, or new ways of thinking.” (Ryerson University, Experiential Learning Report, 2014)


The first theories of experiential learning arose in the mid-nineteenth century as attempts to move away from traditional formal education, where teachers simply presented students with abstract concepts, and toward an immersive method of instruction.


Experiential educators are aware that experiences alone are not the basis of the learning. However, it is the design and facilitation of a particular set of experiences, including frontloading and/ or debriefing and reflection that results in the most impactful educational experience.


References and Recommended Reading

A brief overview of progressive education
(The John Dewey Project on Progressive Education, USA)


Lewis, L.H. & Williams, C.J. (1994). In Jackson, L. & Caffarella, R.S. (Eds.). Experiential Learning: A New Approach (pp. 5-16). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.


Michelle Schwartz, Michelle. Best Practices In Experiential Learning. http://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/lt/resources/handouts/ExperientialLearningReport.pdf





Appreciation Circle: Debriefing Activity

Appreciation Circle: Debriefing Activity

Approximate Running Time: 10 minutes + (determined by the number of participants, the length of the program, the depth of appreciation comments, etc)

Minimum Group Size: 3 people

Maximum Group Size: 20 people

Age/ Level: Grade 3+

Space Required: Enough space for a group circle.



“Speaking stick” or ball, anything to indicate whose turn it is to share



No set-up required



The objective of this activity is for participants to have the opportunity to spend the time genuinely sharing appreciation for one another.


Facilitator Guidelines:

This is a simple debrief or end of program activity that can be run in many different ways. Here are some options:

  1. Participants may appreciate anyone popcorn style (meaning no specific order) for the time allotted (i.e. 1 minute per person)
  2. Participants may offer a more focused appreciation (1 person being appreciated at a time until people don’t have anything else to say)
  3. Participants may use a ball of focus. Anyone who wants to be appreciated will take a turn holding the ball and everyone who has an appreciation for that person can share their appreciation while they are in possession of the ball.



It’s essential that the group is focused and showing respect to those who are speaking, and those who are being appreciated. If the group is unable to maintain focus and demonstrate respect, the facilitator may wish to end the activity and debrief why the activity had to end.

All participants should be included in this activity.



Expectations Matrix: Frontloading and Debriefing Activity

Expectations Matrix: Frontloading and Debriefing Activity

Approximate Running Time: 5-10 minutes for each portion (pre-program, during program, end of program)

Minimum Group Size: 1 participant

Maximum Group Size: 1000+ participants

Age/ Level: 8 and up

Space Required: Enough floor or chair space for every participant to sit and write, enough wall or board space for each participant to put 3 sticky notes on the walls/ boards.



  • 3 sticky notes per person
  • 1 pen or pencil per person
  • 3 signs for the walls/ board: “Unmet Expectations”, “Partially Met Expectations”, “Met Expectations”


Set-up: Place the three signs on three separate walls, or spaced as far apart as possible. Provide at least three post-it notes per participant, plus one pen. You may wish to set these up before the participants enter the space.


The objective of this activity is for the participants to take a moment to reflect on and then articulate their expectations for the program, and their personal role in meeting their own, and their peers’, expectations.

The objective is also to inform facilitators and educators about the participants’ expectations, in order to target their needs and clarify the overall program objectives.

Facilitator Guidelines:

  1. Introduce the activity with a discussion about overall program objectives and attention to intention.
  2. Ask participants to take a moment to reflect on the following questions:
  • What are you hoping to take away from this experience?
  • What do you think your peers/ colleagues are hoping to achieve from this experience?
  1. Ask every participant to write one of their expectations for the program on each of their sticky notes.
  2. Invite participants to stick their sticky notes onto the wall/ board underneath the “Unmet Expectations” sign. This is the end of the first stage of the activity.
  3. Half way through the program (or at shorter intervals if you see fit), offer participants time to consider their expectations and either leave them where they are or move them under the signs for “Partially Met” or “Met” expectations.
  4. At the end of the program invite the participants to move their expectations again. Debrief the activity by talking about the “Unmet” Expectations as opportunities for the group/ community to work together and meet those expectations. Take photos of all of the “Met”, “Partially Met”, and “Unmet” expectations to provide to the partner after the program.


Facilitation Variations:

In a small group the participants can write their expectations directly on chart paper or a whiteboard, and then if/ when they wish to move it they can cross the expectation out and add it to another board. Using whiteboards for small groups is more environmentally friendly and just as effective.


There are two main versions of Expectations Matrix:

Version 1:

Unmet Partially Met Met


In Version One there are 3 options you have for categorizing your expectation: Unmet, Partially Met or Met.


Version 2:

  Met Unmet


In version 2, you have 4 options to categorize your expectations. Spoken & Met, Spoken & Unmet, Unspoken & Unmet, Unspoken & Met


First, you need to define your terms.


What do we mean by spoken & unspoken expectations?

  • In this activity, to “speak” an expectation could mean that you write it down and put on the matrix or it could mean that you write it down, verbally speak it to the group, and put it up on the matrix. You can choose either
  • Spoken & Met
  • Spoken & Unmet
  • Unspoken & Unmet
  • Unspoken & Met


In order for JUMP! Facilitators to understand expectations of participants when they start the program. JUMP! most commonly does Expectations Matrix at the beginning of the program, in the first block, although that doesn’t always need to be the case






Plus/ Delta Frontload and/ or Debrief


Approximate Running Time: 5 minutes to 5 hours (time allotted is determined by the depth of reflection/ debrief)


Minimum/ Maximum Group Size: 1 person to 1000+ people


Age/ Level: Participants should be capable of reflection, sharing ideas, understanding the difference between behavior that they would like to repeat, and behavior that they would like to change.


Space Required: Sufficient space for participants to sit comfortably, indoors or outdoors.



  • Whiteboard/ chart paper
  • Journals/ notepads for participants (if whiteboard/ chart paper/ wall space unavailable)
  • Markers or pens if journals or notepads are being used.


Set-up: None required


Objective: To help groups or individuals evaluate a single experience or a chain of experiences.


Developing a Plus/Delta evaluation into a Plus/Delta model requires you to save and use previous Plus/Delta lists. After you or your group has made an initial Plus/Delta list, you must keep it for future review. The Plus/Delta becomes a working document in which you and your group track the implementation of deltas from previous experiences, and record whether any pluses has been forgotten.


Facilitator Guidelines:

In a Plus/ Delta, pluses are specific actions that an individual or group took during their activity/ experience, which allowed them to feel successful. The pluses are actions that they hope to repeat in future experiences. Deltas are suggested actions that an individual or group can take in future experiences, which will allow those experiences to be more enjoyable or successful than the one that is being evaluated.

The Plus/ Delta can be used as a working document, in which facilitator and participants track the implementation of deltas from previous experiences, and record whether any pluses and been forgotten

1. Have participants complete an experience or task

2.  Gather group members together to evaluate the experience or task

3.  Elicit specific pluses and deltas from group members, and encourage all members to contribute to the Plus/ Deltas

4.  Use the Discussion Shadow to make sure that each group member’s ideas are clearly understood and recorded

5.  Save and store the Plus/Delta in a place that is accessible to all

6.  Complete another experience or task

7.  Review previous Plus/Delta

8.  Move any deltas that have been changed, to the plus category

9.  Record any new pluses or deltas; encourage all group members to contribute 

10. Use the Discussion Shadow to make sure that each group member’s ideas are clearly understood and recorded

11. Save and store the Plus/Delta in a place that is accessible to all

12.  Repeat this process throughout working with the same group, or throughout working toward the same goal



It is helpful to use the following chart format to clearly record pluses and deltas.


(Positive Actions)


(Suggested Changes)





What Is Debriefing and How Is It Done?

Debriefing is an experience that enables participants to connect activities and lessons they learned in an activity, experience, or program, to the outside world.


When Does Debriefing Take Place?

Debriefing may take place at the end of any activity or experience, including at the end of a segment of an experience, or the end of a series of activities. There is not one perfect time to debrief, or a set guidelines for how long each debrief should last. JUMP! recommends varying debrief strategies, and using activities that give participants the knowledge and power to take the lead in their debriefing process.


What are the Benefits of Debriefing?

David Kolb, an American educational theorist and one of the forefathers of experiential education philosophy, believed that in order to truly learn from experience there must be time for reflection.

Debriefing is a core component of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle. By reflecting on, and recognizing the knowledge, skills and attitudes used in an experience, participants develop personal awareness and insight and become aware of the inner resources that they can access in future experiences.


Debriefing Steps

Experiential activities provide a lot of discussion points. However, it’s important to remember that if post-activity debriefs are not structured properly they may not be effective, and opportunities for learning may not surface.

In order to maximize the benefits of experiential activities, and enable participants learning and development through the process, it’s helpful to follow a three step model for how to ask debrief questions: What? So What? Now What? Schoel, Prouty, & Radcliffe, 1988).

Here are some notes about this process, directly from Schoel, prouty, & Radcliffe’s 1988 book Islands of healing: A guide to Adventure Based Counselling.


  1. The What
    Purpose: Review the activity to collect data of what happened
    Explanation: The intention is to draw out as much information as possible from the group in order to refer back to it later on in the discussion. From this foundation of what happened, the facilitator can guide the discussion forward into greater understanding of the experience, and help draw out the learning from it.
    Example Questions: What happened? What took place during that activity? What did you observe?
  2. The So What
    Purpose: Look at details and interpret the data to draw out the significance of the activity in order to gain insight
    Explanation: Moving from the descriptive and observable to the interpretive, the intention is to draw more meaning of what happened, and/or how it happened as well as to “unpack” the more subtle levels of what took place.
    Example questions: How was your communication? What contributed to your team’s success? What role did you play in the group during the activity?
  3. The Now What?
    Purpose: Bridge from recent experience to future experience
    Explanation: In order for what has just taken place to have significance or impact, the ‘now what’ questions get the participants to think ahead and possibly apply what they have learnt. It may also be appropriate for participants to look at what has just taken place on a metaphoric level and draw meaning or insight in that way.



Schoel, J., Prouty, D., & Radcliffe, P. (1988).  Islands of healing: A guide to adventure based counseling.  Hamilton, MA: Project Adventure.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.