A New Way of Learning + 9 Tips to help students learn

By Jess Gordon, Cohort 9, Groundswell Build

Each week, a participant in Groundswell’s Build program shares reflections, learnings, and experiences from their journey of building a social venture. See current and past participant posts in the Student Blog.

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A New Way of Learning + 9 Tips to help students learn

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As an educator and lifelong learner, I thought I knew about experiential learning.  I had taken an Environmental Education course during my time at SFU that had emphasized experience and connection to place (time, space, history, culture, etc) as key components for engaging students in the world and in their learning. As we hiked down Burnaby Mountain one day, our instructor stopped to show us key geological elements and while I stood there and observed, I realized that I was literally looking back in time as I observed the strata streaking across the surface of the rocky walls.  I wasn’t learning it from a textbook, I was experiencing it in a way that made a mark and will live with me forever and I wondered how do you make this kind of learning accessible in the classroom?


And then I enrolled in Groundswell’s Build Program.


Experiential learning is defined as a process of learning through experience or doing and reflection, and is something that I have become quite excited about since I embarked on this Build journey with Groundswell.  I have no business background, zero, and yet I am absorbing information, knowledge and expertise like a sponge and it has made me wonder what about this experience is so engaging and rewarding. I’ve determined that it’s the process of experiential learning in action!


Every Monday morning, we gather to learn a new concept and, in that same class, immediately start applying those new concepts to our business ideas.  It’s relevant, it’s strategic, it’s purposeful and it’s made me reflect on my previous experiences of learning and education and how I may adapt my own teaching practice to incorporate such experiences for my students.  The concepts that we are learning are not theoretical for some undetermined future date after graduation, they are practical for growing my business today and this week. I will not become an entrepreneur when I finish the program because I became an entrepreneur the moment I stepped through the door.


The flowchart below (taken from Running Lean by Ash Maurya) is one visual representation of the process used to create and develop our businesses and I think it perfectly encapsulates what it means to learn anything: We build our knowledge base, we put it into practice, we reflect on the outcomes, we learn from our successes and mistakes, we adapt what we know and have learned, and we do it again. It’s the whole experience that helps us learn and that includes making mistakes.

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My business idea is a culmination of my years of experience working with children and youth, teaching and my training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.  I am developing a program that equips, educates and empowers young girls to be strong, courageous and safe in a world that can be unpredictable. So how may I incorporate experiential learning into my curriculum and provide the best learning experience for the girls I want to serve?

Here are 9 characteristics of Experiential Learning:

  1. Mixture of content and process: There must be a balance between the experiential activities and the underlying content or theory.

  2. A safe space: The instructor must create a safe space for students to work through their own process of self-discovery.

  3. Relevant: In experiential learning, the learner is the self-teacher, therefore there must be “meaning for the student in the learning.” The learning activities must be personally relevant to the student.

  4. Connections: Experiential activities must allow the students to make connections between the learning they are doing and the world. Activities should build in students the ability see relationships in complex systems and find a way to work within them.

  5. Reflection: Students should be able to reflect on their own learning, bringing “the theory to life” and gaining insight into themselves and their interactions with the world.

  6. Creating emotional investment: Students must be fully immersed in the experience, not merely doing what they feel is required of them. The “process needs to engage the learner to a point where what is being learned and experience strikes a critical, central chord within the learner.”

  7. Values: By working within a space that has been made safe for self- exploration, students can begin to analyze and even alter their own values.

  8. Relationships: One part of getting students to see their learning in the context of the whole world is to start by showing the relationships between “learner to self, learner to teacher, and learner to learning environment.”

  9. Learning outside one’s perceived comfort zones: “Learning is enhanced when students are given the opportunity to operate outside of their own perceived comfort zones.” This doesn’t refer just to physical environment, but also to the social environment. This could include, for instance, “being accountable for one’s actions and owning the consequences”

Taken and adapted from: https://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/lt/resources/handouts/ExperientialLearningReport.pdf


Groundswell supports awesome people like Jess in realizing their dream of creating a fulfilling livelihood for themselves and making positive change.

If you’re looking for support to grow your idea or small business: