Encyclopedia of Sustainability in Higher Education

2019 Edition
| Editors: Walter Leal Filho

Experiential Learning and Sustainable Development

  • Jessica L. GaffneyEmail author
  • Joy Kcenia O’NeilEmail author
Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-11352-0_348


Experiential learning and sustainable development is defined as a hand-on, action-oriented learning process that enables the learner to experience, reflect and change the way the learner conceives their place in the world and to take action towards sustainable development.


Education for sustainable development fosters change in how a learner thinks and learns to create a more sustainable world. Experiential learning is a broad-based term that describes this learning process. Experiential learning encompasses diverse action-oriented pedagogies often described as “learning by doing,” a term coined by experiential educational theorist John Dewey (1938). Learning by doing involves engaging the learner in hands-on activities that take learners out of the traditional classroom and into environments that allow them to engage in learning through hands-on experiences. This shift in emphasis from teaching to learning supports sustainable development by empowering the...

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Burns H (2011) Teaching for transformation: (re)designing sustainability courses based on ecological principles. J Sustain Educ 2:1–15Google Scholar
  2. Damasio AR (1999, 2000) The feeling of what happens: body and emotion in the making of consciousness. Harcourt, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  3. Damasio AR (2012) Self comes to mind. Random House, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  4. Desmond D, Grieshop J, Subramanium A (2004) Revisiting garden-based learning in basic education. International Institute for Educational Planning/Food and Agriculture Organization. Retrieved from http://www.ao.org/sd/erp/revisiting.pdf
  5. Dewey J (1910) How we think. D.C. Heath and Co, BostonCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Dewey J (1938) Experience and education. Macmillan, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  7. Dirkx JM (2008) The meaning and role of emotions in adult learning. New Dir Adult Contin Educ 2008(120):7–18.  https://doi.org/10.1002/ace.311CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fenwick TJ (2001) Experiential learning: a theoretical critique from five perspectives. Ohio State University, ColumbusGoogle Scholar
  9. Gardner, Howard (2006) Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory and Practice. New York: Basic BooksGoogle Scholar
  10. Goleman D (2009) Ecological intelligence: how knowing the hidden impacts of what we buy can change everything. Broadway Books, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  11. Goleman D, Bennett L, Barlow Z (2012) Eco literate: how educators are cultivating emotional, social, and ecological intelligence. Jossey-Bass, San FranciscoGoogle Scholar
  12. Hauenstein A (1998) A conceptual framework for educational objectives: a holistic approach to traditional taxonomies. University Press of America, LanhamGoogle Scholar
  13. Heron J (1992) Feeling and personhood: psychology in another key. Sage, London/Newbury ParkGoogle Scholar
  14. Hickman L (2009) John Dewey at 150: continuing relevance for a global milieu. Educ Theory 59(4):375–378CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Immordino-Yang MH (2011) Implications of affective and social neuroscience for educational theory. Educ Philos Theory 43(1):98–103CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Immordino-Yang MH, Damasio AR (2007) We feel, therefore we learn: the relevance of affective and social neuroscience to education. Mind Brain Educ 1(1):3–10CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Jordi R (2011) Reframing the concept of reflection: consciousness, experiential learning, and reflective learning practices. Adult Educ Q 61(2):181–197CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kagawa F, Selby D, Trier C (2006) Exploring students’ perceptions of interactive pedagogies in education for sustainable development field course. Planet 17:53–56CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kasl E, Yorks L (2002) Do I really know you? Do you really know me? Empathy amid diversity in differing learning contexts. Adult Educ Q 66(1):3–20.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0741713615606965CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kolb DA (1984) Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice Hall, Englewood CliffsGoogle Scholar
  21. Kolb A, Kolb D (2011) Experiential learning theory: a dynamic, holistic approach to management learning, education and development. In: Handbook of management learning, education and development. Sage, London.  https://doi.org/10.4135/9780857021038.n3CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Mezirow J (1997) Transformative learning: theory to practice. New Dir Adult Contin Educ 1997(74):5CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Moore DT (2010) Forms and issues in experiential learning. New Dir Teach Learn 2010(124):3–13.  https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.415CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. O’Neil J (2018) Transformative sustainability learning within a material discursive ontology. J Transform Educ 2018(16):365–387.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1541344618792823CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Roberts JW (2012) Beyond learning by doing: theoretical currents in experiential education. Routledge, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  26. Roberts JW (2013) Experiencing sustainability: thinking deeper about experiential education in higher education. J Sustain Educ 5. http://www.jsedimensions.org/wordpress/content/experiencing-sustainability-thinking-deeper-about-experiential-education-in-higher-education_2013_05/
  27. Sipos Y, Battisti B, Grimm K (2008) Achieving transformative sustainability learning: engaging head, hands and heart. Int J Sustain High Educ 9(1):68–86CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sterling SR (2001) Sustainable education: re-visioning learning and change. Green Books for the Schumacher Society, TotnesGoogle Scholar
  29. Sterling S (2003) Whole systems thinking as a basis for paradigm change in education: explorations in the context of sustainability. Doctoral thesis, University of BathGoogle Scholar
  30. Sterling S (2017) Assuming the future: repurposing education in a volatile age. In: Jickling B, Sterling S (eds) Post-sustainability and environmental education. Palgrave studies in education and the environment. Palgrave Macmillan, ChamGoogle Scholar
  31. Tilbury D (2011) Education for sustainable development: expert review of processes and learning. UNESCO, ParisGoogle Scholar
  32. UNESCO (2017) Education for sustainable development goals: learning objectives. UNESCO, Paris, pp 1–67Google Scholar
  33. Williams DR, Brown JD (2012) Learning gardens and sustainability education: bringing life to schools and schools to life. Routledge, LondonGoogle Scholar
  34. Yorks L, Kasl E (2002) Toward a theory and practice for whole-person learning: reconceptualizing experience and the role of affect. Adult Educ Q 52(3):176–192.  https://doi.org/10.1177/07417136020523002CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Education, College of Professional Studies, University of Wisconsin-Stevens PointStevens PointUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Judy Rogers
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Architecture and Design,Program Manager, Master of Disaster Design and DevelopmentRMIT UniversityMelbourneAustralia