The effects of experiential learning on curriculum development

“[L]earning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes…learning is relearning” (Merriam, Caffarella, & Baumgartner, 2007, p. 163). This quote about two of many general propositions of experiential learning theory will be the focus of my third journal entry. As I reflect on both of these propositions, I will respond to objective, reflective, interpretive, and decisional questions.


I have learnt from reflecting on this quote that it is not always appropriate to define learning in terms of course outcomes. This definition of learning is a result of how our society used to be one employed in producing goods, as opposed to now, where our society is primarily employed in providing services (Merriam et al., 2007, p. 15). Information is now easy to store and access due to the phenomenon of the Internet. What has become of great value to society is knowledge. Learning is a process that can be achieved through relearning, where “ideas must be drawn out, discussed, and refined” (Merriam et al., 2007, p. 163). For courses I teach, such as management information systems (MIS), the material is difficult for students to understand unless they can relate it to their own experiences. For example, when we discuss identity theft in class, we talking about phishing attacks, which are “attack[s] involving deception to acquire sensitive personal information by masquerading [themselves] as official-looking e-mails” (Rainer, Cegielski, Splettstoesser-Hogeterp, & Sanchez-Rodriquez, 2011, p. 85). Students can relate this concept to experience with suspicious e-mails they may have received, and discuss the dangers of what could happen to them if they provided confidential information about themselves to cybercriminals.

What caught my attention in this quote is that the method of designing courses around learning outcomes is becoming old-fashioned because of the increased demand of experiential learning. This demand is apparent at my university, due to our latest strategic plan requiring that every program of study include connections between theory and application through experiential learning.


I have realized that students who have achieved all the outcomes in a course satisfactorily cannot necessarily apply their knowledge in an organizational environment. The process in which students achieve these outcomes is very important. Activities such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and reflection can greatly change the way students acquire knowledge. This also ties in with the idea that learning is relearning. A student can easily remember something by memorization and make it appear that they are knowledgeable on assessments. In order for students to refine and improve their knowledge, they need to bring their experiences to the classroom and discuss them with their peers. This method of learning extends outside of the classroom and into the workplace. As in illustration, consider an employee who has been training in Microsoft Office, whose organization has decided to switch to the free open-source alternative OpenOffice. This is becoming a common switch for organizations due to the discontinuation of support from Microsoft for Microsoft Office 2003 and earlier versions (Info-Tech Research Group, 2010). An employee who learnt Microsoft Office by remembering all the sequences of commands to create certain documents would have a very difficult time making this transition. On the other hand, an employee who used Microsoft Office as a tool for creative thinking and problem solving to analyze and solve business and application problems would have an easier transition, since they could apply their experience in using the software to relearn their knowledge in the OpenOffice environment. This latter approach is the format we adopt in computer business systems. 


My “Aha!” moment when reading this quote is that many courses are designed around a set of outcomes for students to have on completion of a course, but we should also be describing the process in which these outcomes are achieved. In my previous degrees, I recall only seeing course objectives or outcomes in course outlines, with no mention of how they will be achieved. The same applies in the courses I teach. In PIDP 3100, I have observed that in addition to the learning outcomes, a course scope is provided. This method of providing both outcomes and scope is something I want to start including in my course outlines.

This quote has changed my mind about being an adult educator as I am not just responsible for ensuring students achieve the course outcomes. It is also my responsibility to teach students how to learn, how to apply their knowledge, and how to refine their knowledge. I provide students with strategies that have helped me learn in past, such as taking notes from textbooks you read, and sharing these notes with others to see if they understand the material you summarized. The students can be given the opportunity to apply their knowledge through individual or group work, with an emphasis on real-world problems so that can relate their past and future experience to the course content. Through these applications, the students can then reflect on their work and gain new experiences.

A key insight that I have gained is that in curriculum development, learning outcomes should be accompanied with the learning processes in which they will be achieved. When implementing this type of material into an official course outline, careful attention must be taken in order to satisfy both instructors and students. Traditionally, instructors are the authority figures who decide how a course is designed, however students who want to improve their learning experiences are sometimes being included in this process. As an extreme example, students in agricultural education at a university in the United States were not satisfied with their learning experiences in their courses. One instructor, who had a passion for student-centred learning, ran a course where “students assumed a traditional instructor’s role [where] they designed a course syllabus, prioritized topics, developed disposition agreements, and secured a course budget and travel” (Hains & Smith, 2012, p. 363). This experiment began with “faculty and student hesitation and [ended] with student empowerment and educational ownership” (Hains & Smith, 2012, p. 370). Although this is a fascinating piece of research, student involvement in curriculum development is not something I would want to experiment with at this point in my teaching career.


In my future teaching in computer business systems, I am going to spend time during the first class describing to my students what it means to learn and how their experiences can benefit both themselves and their classmates towards successful completion of the course. I have found that students have a common misconception that in a technology-based course, they are given step-by-step instructions to complete a task and are then required to replicate these techniques on assessments. This is far from the truth in showing their understanding of the course material. I will let students know the learning procedures they will be involved in to achieve the course outcomes, such as problem solving, critical thinking, and the discovery of relevancy in the material to their past and future experiences. Throughout the semester, I will remind students about the learning processes they are encountering and hope that after successful completion of my classes they can apply and refine their knowledge in their potential work settings.


Hains, B. J., & Smith, B. (2012). Student-centered course design: empowering students to become self-directed learners. Journal of Experiential Education, 35(2), 357-374.

Info-Tech Research Group. (2010, May 18). Organizations Switching from Microsoft Office Choose OpenOffice Over Google Docs: New Survey by Info-Tech Research Group. Retrieved from Info-Tech Research Group:

Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rainer, R. K., Cegielski, C. G., Splettstoesser-Hogeterp, I., & Sanchez-Rodriquez, C. (2011). Introduction to information systems: Supporting and transforming business (2nd Canadian Ed.). Ontario: John Wiley & Sons Inc.


About simoncrothers

I am an Australian who moved to British Columbia, Canada with my family in 1998. After completing my undergraduate degree in mathematics and computing science at Simon Fraser University, I moved back to Australia for several years. During this time I completed a Masters in Computational Mathematics and began my teaching career in mathematics at the University of New South Wales. In 2010, I moved back to Canada and taught computer science at Douglas College for three years. I am currently regular faculty in the Computer Business Systems department at KPU. I have also taught some courses in the Business and Quantitative Methods department at KPU. In my spare time I like to spend time with my wife Jami, who I met in Australia, our three year old daughter Lillian, and our newly born son Aiden. I also like to indulge in the occasional video game and I am involved in various self-employed web development projects.
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