The theory and practice of critical experiential pedagogy : enacting a critical experiential education

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Colleen A. Thomas (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site:
Glenn Hudak

Abstract: Roberts (2012) identifies three main strands within experiential education: romantic, pragmatic, and critical. However, work within the general experiential education literature does not usually self-identify with a strand. Thus, while I agree with Roberts’ analysis and partitioning of the field, orientations of experience and praxis are not always acknowledged, leaving many assumptions about theory and practice unnamed. Critical enactments of experiential education exist (Warren, 2019); yet, no framework has been outlined in a coherent, succinct way. A lack of an explicit theoretical framework hampers critical experiential educators’ ability to have productive dialogue within research (Itin, 1999) and to develop praxis that adheres to the principles of critical experiential education (Breunig, 2009). Thus, I seek to make explicit what is already implicitly known and practiced by critical experiential educators. Further, much of experiential education is not critically oriented (Warren, 2019). For scholar-practitioners who are interested in reorienting their practice within experiential education, I hope explicit guiding principles within a critical experiential framework will provide some guidance on how to do so. Hence, the aim of this project is to provide guidance for not-yet-critical experiential educators to analyze their practices and to help critical educators have more precise discussions about their strand with explicit philosophical commitments and guiding principles of praxis. To extract the essential characteristics of a critical experiential praxis, I explore the essence of experience within the field of experiential education, which directs a discussion of experiential education’s philosophical roots. Following, I examine the three main strands within experiential education praxis: romantic, pragmatic, and critical (Roberts, 2012). After surveying crucial elements of critical social pedagogies, I consider how experiential education’s philosophical underpinnings take a critical shift to undergird a critical experiential education. On this foundation, I identify guiding principles of a theoretical framework. I also explore four examples of expressions of critical experiential education to illustrate the guiding principles in practice. Finally, I suggest a strategy to analyze practice in order to reorient it toward a critical experiential pedagogy. Critical experiential pedagogy offers a new perspective for not-yet-critical educators, which helps keep praxis relevant and current. While offering guidelines for praxis, however, critical experiential pedagogy is not prescriptive and does not offer a universal approach; thus, critical educators also accept more variability in learning outcomes. In addition to strengthening experiential education’s theoretical roots and critically reorienting the theory and praxis of experiential education, I believe that a well-delineated theory of critical experiential pedagogy will prove useful toward broader implementation of critical experiential praxis.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2023
Critical pedagogy, Experiential education
Critical pedagogy
Experiential learning
Service learning

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