Progressing through engaging learning methods

Understanding engaging learning methods of hands-on, experiential and participatory as a progressive scale rather than synonyms.

Cutting edge youth development programs, education and approaches employ more engaging, inquiry-based approaches. These approaches are a key in the discussion of how to revamp a post-industrial education system in response to a rapidly changing workplace. Revolutionary schools are insisting on team-based, youth guided holistic learning environments. 4-H youth development lists this as the core of all of their volunteer led youth programs. Michigan State University Extension 4-H frames this approach well in one of their guiding principles, “youth are considered participants rather than receipiants of 4-H programming.”

With that in mind, consider a string of words that often accompany this style of programming:hands-on, experiential and participatory. These essential set of words start to blur together as a set of synonyms. When looked at as separate ideas, these terms become a scale of programming—building upon one another. In other words, it is possible to have a hands-on activity that is neither experiential nor participatory however a strong participartory project would be both hands-on and experiential. Of course, the ideal project would cover all three, but having this differentiation allows for projects to respond to the setting, goal and youth involved.

Ideally, youth development approaches respond to the needs and assets of young people. Learning models strive to build off of the positive assets youth already possess while also meeting youth as they continue to develop. Paralleling the concept of Hart’s Ladder of Youth Participation, having programs progress on a hands-on, experiential and participatory scale starts youth in a familiar learning settting and building upon it.  So, some settings and timeframes make more sense hosting a hands-on activity where there isn’t time to progress towards in-depth reflection and application or youth participating in planning the project.

In the following article series by MSU Extension will explore these terms in more detail along with different examples of programs and activities as they progress through hands-on, experiential and participatory.

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