ELS Education Center: FAQ



What is Experiential Learning?

IMG_0864Broadly, experiential learning is any learning that supports students in applying their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world problems or situations where the instructor directs and facilitates learning.

At Holly Farm, we value learning. Learning leads to knowledge. Knowledge creates confidence.  Confidence inspires creativity and calculated risk taking through critical thinking. Experiential learning becomes a self-directed study into the environment around us that includes: animals, plants and other humans.  Mentors and teachers guide and facilitate rather than dictate and direct.


Why is Experiential Learning Important?

  • EL teaches students the competencies they need for real-world success.
    • The public is clamoring for an education that teaches students the competencies they need for real-world success. Although we can simulate the real world in the classroom and laboratory, authentic EL creates an invaluable opportunity to prepare students for a profession or career, learn the craft of a fine artist, or discover how the discipline creates evidence to contribute to its body of knowledge.
    • Competencies include:
      • Effective communication
      • Leadership and relationship/team-building skills
      • Critical thinking process
      • Recognizing and overcoming fear
      • The Effective Learning Process
    • EL motivates students.
      • EL provides the conditions for optimally supporting student learning. When students are engaged in learning experiences that they see the relevance of; they have increased motivation to learn.
    • EL creates self-directed learners.
      • Through EL, students are confronted with unfamiliar situations and tasks in a real-world context. To complete these tasks, students need to figure out what they know, what they do not know, and how to learn it.

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Why is Experiential Learning Effective?

These 12 points are drawn from the Experiential Learning Research of corporate psychologists Dr John Luckner and Reldan Nadler.

  1. All Things Being Equal

EL provides a common and yet novel experience where all participants are equal in their knowledge about the tasks and projects that will confront them. A unique set of projects and situations requires participants to draw upon genuine team process skills as opposed to just functional ones.  Leadership vs. bullying tactics is learned as participants discover that their own unique strengths are valued and their weaknesses are simply unlearned competencies.

  1. Developing Healthy Relationships Quickly

Animal Farm_edit01Participants are interacting in close proximity whilst working on new and unfamiliar challenges. The communication, collaboration and effort that are required to meet these challenges develop relationships quickly. Participants may get to know each other better in a single day within this environment than over an entire year of normal school conditions.  Building healthy working relationships requires a measure of “conditional trust.”  Participants quickly learn and observe the “friend vs. friendly” relationship and thereby reducing tension in the group.

Additionally, participants learn Upward (authority), Downward (follower), Outward (peers, counselors) model of relationship and how they fit in any given group of people at any given time.  This awareness helps participants understand the roles they play carry a significant amount of assumed responsibility and accountability.

  1. From Disorder to Order

The unfamiliarity of the challenges and problems at Holly Farm places participants in a state of disequilibrium or disorder. They cannot easily stand behind their normal status, roles and defenses. Prior experience isn’t as relevant in this environment. This can allow emphasis to be placed upon both task and process related themes as the group has to organize itself around the new challenges.  This environment fosters collaboration within a group versus competition.  Participants learn to lean upon one another’s strengths to complete the tasks assigned.

  1. Problem Solving Techniques

In organizing the instability or disequilibrium, the group projects their problem-solving skills, project management ability, and leadership style onto the experience. The experience provides a unique opportunity to catch participants doing what they typically do, in spite of knowing otherwise. The learning arising from this is profound and revealing. The window or mirror into their process provides unlimited information or data to shape their team based learning. Through proven critical thinking processes, participants learn to problem-solve at a higher level.

  1. Decreased Time Cycle

The space between the project or challenge and the outcomes are compressed, so the consequences of organizational decisions can be easily examined and improved. Typically in an organization, there is more of a time lag and more variables to consider, so any review or learning risks being diluted or delayed.

  1. Awareness of and Controlling One’s Own Learning (Meta Learning)

In the experiential ‘learning laboratory”, as the projections and simulations shed light on the teams process, the group is asked to step back and evaluate their performance. The review is about themselves, their leadership, problem solving skills, teamwork, communication and managing change. The intensity with which these issues can arise, and then be discussed in this environment, is superior to that which normally occurs within a team structure.

  1. Chaos and Crisis in a Safe Environment

Teams are able to experience chaos, disorder, crisis and changing requirements for success in a safe environment where the consequences for failure are limited. The team can develop strategies and best practices for managing these issues both in this environment and back at home or school.

  1. Kinaesthetic Imprint

EL is an anchor for cognitive material. Participants have a kinaesthetic imprint or whole body learning of cognitive principles because the learning is graphic as it involves physical, mental and behavioral dimensions.

  1. Common Language

The experience provides a common language, experience and story, which can be related to the work, home and school environment. The experience can provide a short cut in communicating a shared vision very quickly. The experience is stored in a way that is able to permit participants to see themselves and their peers in a new light. The experience (and stories attached thereto) can serve as a catalyst for continuing the theme in the group.

  1. Encourage Risk Taking

The experience allows participants to take new risks, try on new roles and make mistakes with no danger or cost. Risks are naturally perceived rather than actual. Each person taking a risk pushes others to take on something outside of their comfort zone. There are always individuals, who shine in this environment – whose leadership ability hasn’t been noticed before.

  1. Diversity of Strengths

The team challenges and activities are designed to include a variety of elements that will challenge a range of team role skills. In other words input from all team members will be required to produce outcomes from projects specifically designed not to suit just one team role style or behavior. One person cannot possibly succeed alone and so the interdependence of the team is highlighted along with the importance of diversity within the team.

  1. Fun and Safe

The Holly Farm environment provides a highly enjoyable way to learn about and develop team structured learning and management process skills. Fun is a powerful aspect of effective learning with participants becoming more open to the experience and creative whilst participating in it. Equine Life Solutions Education Programs will always place great importance on having fun while staying safe.


What is Critical Thinking?

Critical thinking is that mode of thinking — about any subject, content, or problem — in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully analyzing, assessing, and reconstructing it. Critical thinking is self-directed, self-disciplined, self-monitored, and self-corrective thinking. It presupposes assent to rigorous standards of excellence and mindful command of their use. It entails effective communication and problem-solving abilities, as well as a commitment to overcome our native egocentrism and sociocentrism.



What is Team-Based Learning?


Fun with the animals!

Team-Based Learning is an evidence based collaborative learning teaching strategy designed around units of instruction, known as “modules,” that are taught in a three-step cycle: preparation, in-class readiness assurance testing, and application-focused exercise. A class typically includes one module.