National Park Service


Date of this Version



From: Weber, Samantha, and David Harmon, eds. 2008. Rethinking Protected Areas in a Changing World: Proceedings of the 2007 GWS Biennial Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites. Hancock, Michigan: The George Wright Society.


U.S. Government Work


Experiential learning is a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skill, and value directly from an experience within the environment. Learning occurs when carefully chosen experiences are supported by reflection, critical analysis, and synthesis. Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions, and be accountable for the results. The results of the learning are personal and self constructed, preparing for and leading to future experiences and learning. Relationships within the experience are developed and nurtured. Lave and Wenger (1991) suggest that individuals learn as they participate by interacting with a community, its history, assumptions and cultural values, rules, and patterns of relationship; the tools at hand, including objects, technology, language and images; the moment’s activity, its purposes, norms, and the practical challenges. Shared knowledge emerges from the interaction of these elements. The interactions and shared experiences result in what Davis and Sumara (1997) refer to as a “commingling of consciousness.” As each participates, the relational space among them all changes. This is “mutual specification” (Varela et al. 1991), the fundamental dynamic of systems engaging in mutual action and interaction. Activities that involve professionals in open and dynamic discussion, mutual problem solving and/or collaborative learning, draw the participants into a community of learners or professional cohort and contribute to a deeper shared understanding of an experience.