There are many derivations of the old saw, experience is the best teacher coming from philosophers and pundits ranging from Julius Caesar, to Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, Soren Kierkegaard, and Oscar Wilde, to name a few. More recently, MRI-based neurological studies have validated the learning theories of David Kolb and others that experience is integral to true learning.
The Power of Experience
That’s good news because our Bible college/biblical higher education tradition has always called for intentional and pervasive engagement in experiential higher education. Our colleges are committed to facilitating hands-on ministry, service learning, and intercultural study opportunities. These practical learning experiences help students discover and develop their unique God-given gifts, passions, and sense of calling and exercise and grow the life, ministry, and leadership skills required for passionate and proficient service.
Integral or Extraneous
Rather than extra-curricular or even co-curricular, experiential education best practice insists that experiential learning is integral to a student’s program of study. The faculty will not allow this aspect of a student’s experience to occur in an administrative silo managed by support staff. Rather, faculty members embrace experiential education as an essential aspect of curricular and program design and view their personal experiential engagement with students as fully connected to the classroom or online learning community. In addition to deep faculty engagement in design and delivery, best practice experiential education is marked by the following emphases:
Service learning and ministry experiences are intentionally designed and distributed to provide students with opportunities to explore their natural and spiritual gifting and develop an increasing level of focus and confidence in their core capacities and unique calling.
Contrary to popular belief, experience is not the best teacher. Debriefed experience is the best teacher. Student service and ministry experiences are most fully leveraged for learning when there is an intentional and well-designed opportunity to reflect on these experiences under the guidance of experienced educators and practitioners. Ministry and service experiences that are not accompanied by reflection and debrief may be tragically wasted and, in some cases, detrimental to student development and future ministry and career success.
An exemplary experiential education model seeks not merely to develop competencies but also to develop character. Character is expressed through life, ministry and service dispositions that are honoring to God and edifying to others. When experiences stretch students, they expose character flaws and underdeveloped virtues. Proper and prayerful developmental support can help students recognize their character deficiencies, work on their weaknesses, and form Christ-honoring and service-enhancing dispositions.
Next time, we’ll take a look at the fourth and final dimension of biblical higher education: education that is intentionally and pervasively missional.