What is Experiential Learning?

4 April 2018

 “It’s wonderful to see the engagement and excitement of participants in real-life projects and challenges. In their teams, participants also learn the all-important skill to discover patterns in seemingly chaotic data. It’s great to see how teams put this into action in their next sprints to test the assumptions of their business models.”

– Prof. dr. Justin Jansen, professor Corporate Entrepreneurship and Academic Director Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship


ECE implements the fundamentals of Experiential Learning in their education programmes. But what is Experiential learning? And why does it benefit entrepreneurship education? In the following article we will answer these questions.

Experiential Learning is a continuous learning process where experience is transformed into knowledge. It is a 4-stage cycle that starts from learners being immersed in an experience and making a reflective observation that allows them to develop abstract concepts or theories. Consequently, learners are encouraged to experiment and apply those concepts or theories in real-world situations1.

Experiential Learning differs from learning in a traditional method in several ways. First, learners are encouraged to manage their own learning rather than being told what to do. Second, the learning does not necessarily only take place in classrooms or only from academic texts. Third, it is not a one-way of learning where the knowledge only flows from educators to learners. Instead, learners are encouraged to actively participate in the learning process and knowledge flows in various directions.

In order to be considered ‘experiential’, learning must consist of the following elements2:

  1. Critical reflection, analysis, and synthesis
  2. Learners must be able to take initiative, make own decisions and be accountable for the results
  3. Learners must be able to engage intellectually, creatively, emotionally, socially, and / or physically
  4. A designed learning experience that includes the possibility to learn from natural consequences, mistakes, and successes

Why does Experiential Learning benefit Entrepreneurship Education?

Starting a business can be very different from managing a business. Not only because it’s more temporal rather than ongoing. Starting a business or generating a new product or business model in an existing organisation focuses on continuous testing hypotheses in concise cycles (build, measure, learn) while business management (‘business as usual’) tends to focus more on the status-quo. Therefore there are different ways to teach entrepreneurship.

Although the skills needed in entrepreneurship, such as leadership, negotiation, and product development skills, are no different than those needed in business management; it is crucial that entrepreneurs are able to learn these skills in a practical way so that they can use them to identify opportunities and make strategic actions to exploit those opportunities, which is the essence of entrepreneurship3.

Experiential Learning facilitates the development of entrepreneurial skills, as it helps bridging the gap between acquisition of theoretical knowledge and generation of skills through active participation in learning4. Moreover, Experiential Learning also allows students to discover ‘new’ outcomes from learning, which is just like what entrepreneurs do in real-life when they experiment the ways to exploit the entrepreneurial opportunities5.


Experiential Learning at the heart of the Erasmus Centre for Entrepreneurship programmes

The Experiential Learning methodology does not only fit perfectly well in entrepreneurship education at universities, but in any context; it enables learning in a personalised, active way and beyond the classroom. Learners at all ages, with different backgrounds and different educational levels benefit from this method. This allows us to incorporate the teaching method into all of our educational programmes; this varies from university students to corporate executives like innovation drivers, management teams and intrapreneurs, and from high potentials in a young leadership programme to early-stage entrepreneurs.

During these programmes, the Experiential Learning Cycle and all of the aforementioned elements occur as participants work on their own cases, rather than using the made-up case study, and actively participate in the learning process. Some examples of the implementation of Experiential Learning in our programmes are as following:

  • Executive Education
    We provide Executive Education for among others management teams and entrepreneurs in the fields of entrepreneurship and innovation. An important element of this education is the team performance. Experiential learning as a team is reinforcing; the learning is joint and helps to reflect, understand and apply concepts and theories.
  • Leading Innovation Excellence Programme
    The Leading Innovation Excellence Programme is developed for innovation professionals who wish to improve and sustain the capacity of their organizations to innovate and grow; through its people, its processes and its values. This diploma programme develops the skills of Innovation Drivers and innovation processes of organisations. It’s a unique combination of Change Management, Leadership, Innovation Management and Corporate Entrepreneurship tailored to the practices of innovation drivers
  • Erasmus Startup Programme for early-stage entrepreneurs
    During this four-week programme, ambitious startup entrepreneurs also use experiential learning in the process of turning their ideas into a business. They do this through mentorship by experienced professionals, different workshops, and interaction with fellow early-stage entrepreneurs.
  • Erasmus Business Programme for ambitous entrepreneurs
    The Erasmus Business Programme is a ten-week incubation programme that empowers you to find the right business model, test your pricing models and set up your supply chain. During this programme experiential learning will constantly be used.


1 Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Michigan: Prentice-Hall.

2 UC Denver. (2018). What is experiential learning? Retrieved from Experiential Learning Center, University of Colorado Denver:

3 Kuratko, D. F. (2005). The emergence of entrepreneurship education: Development, trends, and challenges. Entrepreneurship theory and practice, 29(5), 577-598.

4 Cooper, S. B. (2004). Stepping out of the classroom and up the ladder of learning: An experiential learning approach to entrepreneurship education. . Industry and Higher education, 18(1), 11-22.

5 Corbett, A. C. (2005). Experiential learning within the process of opportunity identification and exploitation. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, 29(4), 473-491.

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