The Significance of Experiential Learning in Teacher Education

Recognising that learning and experience are inextricably connected, the Faculty of Education is actively promoting EL across our undergraduate (UG) and postgraduate teacher education (PGDE) programmes to enable students to expand their understanding and practice as future education professionals beyond the formal classroom and school context.

Our EL initiatives come at a time when traditional models of teaching are being replaced by different models of learning. This shift challenges the way we see teaching and learning. For example, should education only be consigned to classrooms, books, or video demonstration? We believe not. The difference between a model of teaching and a model of learning can best be seen in the observation made by Thomas and Seely Brown that while a ‘teaching-based approach focuses on teaching us about the world, the new culture of learning focuses on learning through engagement within the world’ (2011, p.38).

We believe that it is through practice and engagement within the world that our students apply their theoretical knowledge and go on to construct their own theories. Learning can only occur when one makes sense of new experiences and incorporates them into a broader conceptual framework; it is not enough for our students to be the recipients of second-hand knowledge passed down from teachers in the classroom or lecture hall. Instead, students construct their own knowledge of the world by actively engaging in real-life situations that are not always predictable or well-defined. When students reflect on their own personal experience(s), they come to understand the relevance of their academic subjects to the real world and develop a clearer grasp of social and global issues. Such knowledge construction through EL often takes place in social settings and allows students to develop crucial skills that include critical thinking, creativity and problem solving skills, communication skills, as well as leadership and team work capabilities.

Education is not an affair of ‘telling’ and being told, but an active and constructive process.

(John Dewey)

The dialectic relationship between ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ underpins the current undergraduate curriculum reform in this university. EL opportunities occur in various ways both within our own teacher preparation programmes – either as a compulsory part of a course such as on the PGDE programme, or as a stand-alone credit-bearing component as seen on our UG programmes. They can also be non-credit-bearing experiences beyond the programmes. These learning opportunities may take various forms, including undergraduate research projects, language-immersion programmes, exchange studies, service learning projects, and internship opportunities. Our students have the chance to undertake EL through extended participation with overseas and/or local community projects, but regardless of where they occur, experiential projects promoted by the Faculty of Education aim at enhancing students’ understanding of real-world environments, expanding their capacity to integrate theory and practice, and broadening their global outlook.

Through participation in EL projects in this Faculty, we have seen our students cultivate a strong sense of civic responsibility and sensitivity for people in the surrounding social milieu, particularly the under-privileged.

Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.

(David Kolb)

About This Website and the Projects on Offer

This website contains a number of new and exciting EL opportunities for students across our PGDE and UG programmes. These projects have been developed over the past few years with various NGOs and organisations in Hong Kong and outside. We hope that you will take time to read the project descriptions that our local and overseas partners have provided for us and then take the initiative to apply for a place on one of the projects. Before you participate in the formative experience that each project offers, we will do our best to equip you all with the necessary background information, practical and intellectual tools that will enable you to engage with your respective community as well as ethical and moral issues along the way. In most cases you will have the chance to meet with our community partners before you undertake your EL project. Working with these partners will be a very important part of the learning process. Your passion and commitment are vital but so, too, is a strong sense of responsibility.

Make your learning journey at the Faculty of Education an even more memorable one and find out more about yourself and the world around you in the process.