Although practiced in many cultures, experiential learning could be described as essential First Nations traditional teaching and learning since this process entails the making of meaning from direct experiences - through reflection on doing or action. Learning through experience is a pedagogical approach that has been well researched by various mainstream education experts including John Dewey, David Kolb, and Carl Rogers. Learning through experience is a tried and true method of learning - one that every person on the planet engages in from infanthood and onward. It is also a common component of professional, vocational, and other career oriented programs. Yet, the mainstream educational system does not universally accommodate this very rich approach to learning, one that is ideal for all learners, of any age or culture.


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Four Villages

Susan Weill and Ian McGill presented an interesting interpretation of the uses of experiential learning, one that they categorized into four 'villages'. To put these villages in context, they defined experiential learning as "a spectrum of meanings, practices, and ideologies, which emerge out of the work and commitments of policy makers, educators, trainers, change agents, and 'ordinary' people all over the world. They see 'experiential learning' - with different meanings - as relevant to the challenges they currently face in their lives, in education, in institutions, in commerce and industry, in communities, and in society as a whole." (p. 3). The four villages are described as:

Village One is concerned with assessing and accrediting learning from life and work experience as the basis for creating new routes into higher education, employment and training opportunities, and professional bodies.

Village Two focuses on experiential learning as the basis for bringing about change in the structures, purposes and curricula of post-secondary education.

Village Three emphasizes experiential learning as the basis for group consciousness raising, community action and social change.

Village Four is concerned with personal growth and development and experiential learning approaches that increase self-awareness and group effectiveness.

"Experiential learning, including learning from the land, Elders, traditions and ceremonies, community, parental and family supports, as well as the workplace, is a widespread and vital—but often unrecognized—form of Aboriginal learning." (Canadian Council on Learning). First Nations students thrive best in a program that "...encourages and supports experientially oriented approaches to education that makes extensive use of community-based resources and expertise." ( First Nations Accreditation Board, 2007, p. 15).


Smith and McGee (2005) described how aborginal learners apply the Experiential Learning Model outlined by Kolb and Fry (1975) in unique ways. The figure below shows our interpretation of this proposed modification. Although the four elements of the Kolb and Fry model consisting of four elements:

can be applied in First Nations learning, the proposed modification assigns more fitting language to the aboriginal student experience. In fact, new language is often used in professional education where the elements are renamed Action; Reflection on Action or Praxis; and Reflection in Action.

In the First Nations Experiential Learning Cycle illustration below, the elements have the simple yet powerful labels of Experiencing, Reflecting, Meaning Making, and Acting. These dynamic words reveal an engaged, deliberate, yet very open and aware process - one that is reflected in the traditional knowledge and learning processes, and has profound meaning in the 21st Century for students preparing to participate in Self Governance initiatives, and leadership positions within their communities.

First Nations Experiential Learning Cycle

Although this model is organized as a cycle with four elements, learners do not always cognitively and affectively process the steps in a logical-step fashion. All elements could occur at once by a mulittasking learner, or could occur 'out of sequence', However, the sequence does provide a viable model to explain experiential learning.

Dr. Marie Battiste, reinforced the importance of experiential learning for First Nations learners. "The first principle of Aboriginal learning is a preference for experiential knowledge. Indigenous pedagogy values a person's ability to learn independently by observing, listening, and participating with a minimum of intervention or instruction. This pattern of direct learning by seeing and doing, without asking questions, makes Aborginal children diverse learners. They do not have a single homogenous learning style as generalized in some teaching literature from the 1970s and 1980s. Teachers need to recognize that they must use a variety of styles of participation and information exchanges, adapt their teaching methods to the Indigenous styles of learning that exist, and avoid over-generalizing Aboriginal students' capacities based on generalized perceived cultural differences. To maximize participation of Aboriginal students in the educational process, teachers need to experiment with teaching opportunities to connect with the multiple ways of knowing these students have and multiple intelligences." (2002, p. 15).

Community Building

The essence of experiential learning is that what is learned has meaning - to the individual learner's own needs and goals, and to the community in which the learner lives his or her life. Designing experiential learning experiences that are focused within the learner's own community can have far-reaching benefits to both the learner and the community. Better yet, providing the learning climate where the learner can design their OWN experiential learning experiences is even more empowering and provides a multi-layered educational experience, since the student engages in the incubation, planning, implementation, and evaluation of their own learning.

This approach can have far-reaching effects in helping the learner develop a holistic and well-developed self-directed and self-initiated lifelong learning approach to their own education. The learner grasps the basics of taking control of their own learning, which helps them prepare themselves to participate in a self-governed, vibrant community such as the one that the Membertou First Nations profiles in the video clip below.

CCL: Promising Practices: Membertou First Nation, N.S.


Experiential learning can be applied to an endless array of learning situations. The most satisfying situations for First Nations learners are ones they choose themselves. This sample lesson is situated within learner choice and involves learner focus incubation, planning, implementation, and evaluation. Since this learning activity is intended to be used in online learning, the learner will need to incorporate electronic methods of sharing their work plans, progress and final presentation. This sort of assignment is time consuming and involves a lot of work - thus, should account for a major percentage of a learner's course grade.


★ Decide how much control you will be giving the learners in this project based experiential learning assignment. You must also consider how much time you will allot to it (it is ideal to allow most of a semester so the students have lots of time for each stage of the project).

★ Decide how you want the students to submit their work to you. Since this is being done in an online environment, you need to teach the students about bandwidth and upload limits, and ways to deal with these issues.

★ Select an online tool for dialogue with students as they plan and work on their projects, such as a wiki, blog, web site, course management system, and set it up with areas for planning, submitting proposals, providing updates on their progress, showcasing their final presentations, and submitting their rubrics and self-evaluations.

Project Focus

Students choose the focus of this project. The only criteria are that the project must offer a community some sort of service or spark some sort of critical social change within that community. Thus. the choice is quite open - and could range from diverse projects such as designing a web site for an organization, to planning an after school fitness program for young children, to recording a collection of teachings from local Elders.

Project Criteria


Incubation Choose a community related service or an issue that you think should change. Decide what you could do within one semester to provide your selected service, or work on to promote change in the selected area. Verify the appropriateness of your choice with your instructor.

Project Proposal Once you have made your final choice and you have instructor approval, outline a brief proposal to describe what you plan to do. This process helps you to organize the steps you will take to succeed in this project, helps you to set up criteria and goals for achievement, and helps your instructor know what you intend to do.

Planning Create a table or other visual map to plan out your project. Include a description of your chosen community; an introduction to your project focus; the timeline you plan to follow; the steps you will take within this project; what your goals are for this project; how you will know when you have attained these goals; a description of your final presentation (and what software you will use to create it, e.g. PowerPoint, Windows Media Video, a website, etc.) and how you will evaluate your own work.

Rubric Creation Create a rubric to evaluate your project, using a template or creating one in a table on your computer. The first step in creating a rubric is to determine the evaluative criteria for the assignment. The criteria are then organized within a matrix or table, usually along the left hand column. The second step is to decide how marks will be leveled. An example is given in the table below where four possible marks are allotted per criteria, organized as exemplary (4 marks), outstanding (3 marks), developing (2 marks) and beginning (1 mark). For each criteria, four descriptions are written, one for each level or mark. See the table below for an example.

A good resource to help in developing the rubric is Rubistar4teachers at: http://rubistar.4teachers.org/

Project Implementation Once you have organized what you intend to do in this project, begin the implementation process. Keep a log or diary of every step you take to do this, including who you contact, what you do, how much time you spend, and how you have achieved your project goals.

Presentation Prepare a final presentation that presents an informative summary of your project and what you achieved. This presentation can be done in the form of a PowerPoint, a video, a web page, an online e-book, a podcast - whatever you and your instructor agree upon, as long as it can be uploaded into the online environment.

Evaluation Using the rubric you created, evaluate your progress in this project. Submit your evaluation to your instructor, so they can combine your self evaluation with their evaluation.

Recommended Links

Value, Spirit and Purpose: Online Resources for Aboriginal Learners Thoughtful presentation by Dr Rosina Smith and Michael Magee, from the Alberta Online Consortium (AOC), discussing aboriginal learning with an emphasis on experiential and constructivist learning.

Indigenous Knowledge and Pedagogy in First Nations education: A literature Review with Recommendations. Prepared for the National Working Group on Education and the Minister of Indian Affairs, by Dr. Marie Battiste, Director Apamuwek Institute, 2002.

NCLC 249 - Internet Literacy: Technology Outreach Experiential Learning Project Excellent example of online experiential learning assignment from George Mason University, with examples of proposals, assignment and reports guidelines. http://mason.gmu.edu/~montecin/NCLC249-F99.html

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