Tips for designing experiential learning and studio teaching

by Gary Green
Master’s student, University of Florida

As teachers, we are all competing with unlimited distractions to keep and hold our students’ attention. One way to accomplish this is to create a learning environment that physically, mentally, and emotionally engages the students.

Many universities are looking to employ these strategies, particularly in their journalism schools as the University of Florida is doing with the Innovation News Center or Arizona State is doing with the News21 laboratory. However, journalism isn’t the only discipline that can benefit from experiential teaching methods.

McKeachie’s Teaching Tips (Marilla Svinicki & Wilbert J. McKeachie, 2014) says that if you want students to transfer knowledge into the real world, it helps if the learning takes place in a real world environment.

To do this, McKeachie suggests combining lab, lecture, and discussion into a studio learning environment. The teaching studio incorporates few lectures with group work, visiting professionals, and collaborative projects using real world tools, followed by class critiques and proper reflection.

The Australian Learning and Teaching Council’s Studio Teaching Project suggests that in order to build a successful studio teaching environment, you must have the following essential elements:

  • People – lecturers, tutors, technicians, members of the professional communities and student peers
  • Facilities and Resources  – space, equipment, technologies and materials
  • Projects – areas of study, tasks and problems to be solved, especially those related to industry/profession
  • Time – the proportion of course time provided for studio and hours of access to facilities

The council suggests that keeping class sizes to 15-25 students is the current practice, which leads to best outcomes for student engagement and learning.  However, University of British Columbia’s Paul Cubbon is using his “Un-Lecture” methodology to teach large lecture classes by incorporating:

  • Live discussions
  • No exams, no texts (business news and journal articles only)
  • Graded participation
  • Applied Activities
  • Mind Maps
  • Blogs
  • Reflective Writing
  • Small Group Activities
  • Mini-Presentations
  • Twitter Back Channels
  • E-Polling

Benefits of experiential learning

Experiential learning and studio teaching is not a new concept, dating back hundreds, and some cases thousands of years. Similarly, the benefits of experiential learning are not dependent upon one discipline, but applicable to many such as the sciences, engineering and the arts.

When students are involved in an active learning environment with real world applications, research has shown that they have higher rates of retention, are more motivated and engaged, and become active participants in their own life-long learning by applying what they have learned in a studio environment into real world situations.


The Australian Learning and Teaching Council’s Studio Teaching Project:

Arizona State’s Carnegie-Knight News21 Initiative:

Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence:

Emily Pilloton: Teaching design for change:

Experiential and Laboratory Learning:

Simon Fraser University:

Svinicki, M. & McKeachie, W.J. (2014) McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, research and theory for college and university teachers. (14th ed.) Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning

The Inspired Educator Blog:

The University of Chicago Centennial Catalogues:

University of Florida’s Innovation News Center:

 Gary Green is a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC 6930) at the University of Florida.

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