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The understanding of experience and learning is not located in a single disciplinary perspective.

Updated: Jun 12, 2023

“There is no doubt that all of our knowledge begins with experience.”

~ Hans-Georg Gadamer

John Dewey, notable American philosopher of education, writing specifically on experience gives us a foundational understanding that “experience is what we do.” While seemingly a simple definition, he dives more deeply to assert that we cannot divorce – or compartmentalize- the person from the experience. In critiquing the stimulus and response behaviorist psychology in education, Dewey’s learning is the continuous “trying” and “undergoing” of the constant (re)construction of experience of which the person and experience are inseparable.

Jean Piaget is known for his work in child development, ardent supporter of education and educational theory of constructivism. For Piaget, "only education is capable of saving our societies from possible collapse, whether violent, or gradual.” Constructivism argues that learners are not passive receptacles within the direct learning experience, but rather we all construct new understanding by using our prior knowledge as we participate through experiences.

David Kolb was influenced by John Dewey and Jean Piaget, which becomes evident in his process-driven theory of learning. According to Kolb, learning begins as people engage in a concrete experience, leading to reflection, then abstract thinking, making conclusions and further conceptualizing the experience. Kolb’s experiential learning discusses the structure of knowledge from what is basically a social psychology perspective.

Paulo Freire’s pedagogical work similarly challenges the notion that students are mere empty vessels to fill with one-way knowledge from teacher to learner. Instead, learning is a relationship between the two and should specifically encourage student dialogue and movement toward action. Gloria Ladson- Billings extends upon this partnership in learning to emphasize how teachers’ knowledge is situated in their own specific cultural experiences and thus necessitates critical awareness of the cultural assumptions teachers and learners bring to the experience of learning. We can see here an essential relational element in the learning process.

The cursory review of these authors is purely representative and just skims the surface of an exhaustive understanding of experiential learning. For even more resources we include references for writers in psychology, philosophy, sociology, education, etc. at the very end.

Learning Gardens are multi-disciplinary spaces where the arts, all scientific (both natural and social) approaches, people of varied cultures, and learning theory all intersect in an interpretive and educative space.

One discipline yields a singular perspective limited to the confines of specific and accepted frameworks within that discipline. The benefit of a multi-disciplinary approach to experiential learning is akin to a diverse garden- complex, complementary, room for intersections of history, cultures, and validation of multiplicity of frameworks and voices.

Our approach to experiential learning begins with this foundation - that we are what we experience and we engage in experience through who we are. And thus we assert that for sustainability education, the experience must be in the physical living space (with all the natural sights, smells, touch, and sounds) and we are engaging with another physical being in that space. It is the active participation in reciprocal relationships that are at the heart of an experiential learning environment.

As we’ve previously written in the space between education and interpretation, GRO Learning Gardens are rooted in direct and lived experiences in the physical garden. Virtual learning, conversations with chatbots, gaming, computer applications all have a place in the world; but not here. Learning Gardens are located outside, filled with dirt, animals, sunshine, rain, and while they may have ambassador spaces in the indoors, the goal is to experience the outside world and learn from what it teaches us.

GRO Learning Gardens approaches experiential education as learning that occurs through direct and physical participation in the “events of life'”(Houle 1980: 221) that occur directly outside and cannot fully be replicated within indoor or virtual experiences. Learning may be supported via formal education institutions (schools, universities, organizations) but learning is only achieved by the people themselves, thinking about and reflecting upon their direct experience.


Berding, J. W. (1997). Towards a flexible curriculum: John Dewey's theory of experience and learning. Education and Culture, 14(1), 24-31.

Dewey, J. (1933) How We Think, New York: Heath.

Houle, C. (1980) Continuing Learning in the Professions, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed. Bloomsbury publishing USA.

Jarvis, P. (1995) Adult and Continuing Education. Theory and practice 2e, London: Routledge.

Jarvis, P. (1994) 'Learning', ICE301 Lifelong Learning, Unit 1(1), London: YMCA George Williams College.

Kolb, A. and Kolb D. A. (2001) Experiential Learning Theory Bibliography 1971-2001, Boston, Ma.: McBer and Co,

Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development

Ladson‐Billings, G. (1995). But that's just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into practice, 34(3), 159-165.

Munari, A. (1994). "Jean Piaget" (PDF). Prospects: The Quarterly Review of Comparative Education. XXIV (1/2): 311–327.

Piaget, J., Psychology and Epistemology: Towards a Theory of Knowledge (New York: Grossman, 1971)



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