Blending Theory with Play to Enhance Experiential Learning

We know that “All work and no play makes Jack (or Jill) a dull person” but what happens if it’s all play and no theory?

Here’s a great article from my friends at the Institute for Experiential Learning (IFEL) that speaks to the benefits of engaging with the theory of experiential learning as much as our playful practice.


Experiential Learning… Theory (Let’s Not Drop that T!)


We have seen this too much in our work. Playfulness in learning is essential, and when combined with experiential learning theory, the application and potential for learning is exponential!

As experiential educators, it is essential to have great energizers, icebreakers, games, and more in your toolbox. However, the games alone cannot guarantee learning! Combining the activities in an intentional experiential design and integrated, holistic journey ensures the learning process.

This is where Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) comes into play!

Many of us are familiar with Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle seen below. Yet, Experiential Learning Theory covers much more, such as the learning space, educator roles, learning styles, learning flexibility, team learning, and more!

Taking ALL of the various aspects of Experiential Learning Theory into consideration and intentionally designing our virtual and in-person workshops with this theory in mind:

  • Follows the patterns in the brain
  • Allows for the most long-term memory retention
  • Ensures engagement and interaction from all learners
  • Caters to all learning styles and needs
  • Clearly balances theory and practice
  • Supports your participants to apply their learning outside of the sessions
  • Still guarantees play and fun!
IFEL experiential learning theory model


In order to make a program truly experiential, it should contain all four modes of the cycle:

  • Experiencing
  • Reflecting
  • Thinking
  • Acting

What mode of the cycle is your preference when leading online programs?

Are you equally as comfortable with reflection, theory, and application as you are with the experiential games?

IFEL has the tools to support you to hone the areas of the cycle you may be more reluctant and less comfortable with, such as the reflection pieces!


Learn More About the Theory of Experiential Learning


If you’re ready to take your experiential design and delivery skills to the next level and gain confidence in ALL areas of experiential learning, IFEL invites you to register for their next Experiential Learning Certificate Level I course, which starts on Mon 19 January 2022 16:00 pm (eastern US.) It runs for one hour over 8 consecutive weeks through to Mon 9 March 2022.

And I’m going to be there!

Come join me learn online with THE experiential learning experts including David Kolb – a name you may consider synonymous with the Experiential Learning Cycle.

Register Today


Here’s a teaser of some of the things you’ll learn as part of this certificated online course:

  • Experiencing: visualizations, simulations, quizzes, team challenges, role plays, Playmeo games, etc.
  • Reflecting: individual writing reflection with music, small breakout room discussions, drawing on paper or using the digital whiteboard and annotation features, etc.
  • Thinking: the presentation slides can come in here but make sure not to make it all lecture format. Allow for Q&A, polls, questions from the group in the chat for more engagement
  • Acting: Action planning, accountability partners, setting weekly take-home challenges, etc.


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