Resistance & Reconceptualization

This page is a space that pushes us to move beyond the dominant and normative views of experiential learning.

Experiential Learning as a field has been critiqued for its theoretical foundations that highlight the work of Kolb, Dewey, and other White, Western, male scholars whose perspectives were (and continue to be) historically privileged. Here, I consider different ways of conceptualizing experiential learning – ways that refuse to be “Kolbified” and ideas that cannot be subsumed into White, western frameworks. This page may engage with:

  • The politics of experiential learning
  • Philosophical and spiritual traditions that have been developing (sometimes for millennia) theories of the relationship between human experience and learning
  • Historical controversies in the field of experiential learning
  • Indigenous Pedagogies / ways of knowing and being
  • Decolonizing experiential learning
  • Resistance to and Reconceptualization of the constructed segregation between the university classroom and the community / world / wilderness

Eastern philosophical traditions, Indigenous Pedagogies, and Critical Feminist Scholarship – to name only a few – contain rich foundations that integrate experience and education. These marginalized narratives, alongside privileged narratives such as Kolb, Dewey, and others, are central to a more inclusive and equitable understanding of experiential learning and education at UBC.

Resistance Example #1  Disrupting and Resisting “the reductionist, binary, and individualized notions of experiential learning” (2000) [Click here for Fenwick’s most cited Article]

Tara Fenwick is known for her publications from the early 2000s (See Research & Lit Page for more details) that push for a critical approach to experiential learning and expand the understanding of nuanced, often complex frameworks that may not fit within standard approaches such as those proposed by Kolb (1984) and Schon (1983). In response to Kolb (1984) and Schon (1983)’s body of work that emphasizes critical reflection and dialogue as essential aspects of the learning cycle, Fenwick writes:

Learning is presented as a reflection-action (or mind-body and individual-context) binary: recalling and analyzing lived experience to create mental knowledge structures. Implicit is a process of privatizing, objectifying, ordering, and disciplining experience, a process that inserts governance as a matter of course and naturalizes hierarchies of knowledge and skill. The resulting appropriation and compartmentalization by educators of fluid spaces of human meaning making reifies, essentializes, and narritivizes experience as a knowable resource to be exploited in the service of rationalistic and utilitarian notions of knowledge, splits rational consciousness from messy matters of the body, regulates subjects through technologies such as critical reflection and accreditation of prior learning experience (Michelson, 1996), and often ignores issues of identity, politics, and discursive complexities of human experience (and the problematic of its knowability) unfolding amid what Spivak (1988) has called “fractured semiotic fields.

(Fenwick, 2000, p. 244).

[Resistance Example #2:

Resistance Example #2- Experiential Education and the Politics of Citation: Indigenizing and “Communitizing” our Work (By Kari Grain)

I was recently listening to a CBC program called “Unreserved” in which Indigenous scholars were speaking about citational politics or the politics of citations in academia. Featured Indigenous scholars on the program discussed systemic discrimination they face in the peer review process, and a sort of tokenistic use of Indigenous scholarship to “tick the box” and show that Indigenous scholarship has been considered. The basic premise of citational politics, broadly speaking, is that we make political statements through the sources that we cite in our publications and other work. Our citational politics gesture to a number of questions: Who do we regard as an expert in a field? Whose texts (and what kind of “texts”) are considered foundational or canonical? What does the demography and identity of those citations tell us about the value we place on different epistemologies and ontologies?

The program deepened some reflections for me on the field of Experiential Learning & Education, and the authors who frequently get cited. David Kolb, Kurt Hahn, John Dewey, Jay Roberts, and Jayson Seaman – to name only a few – are some of the biggest names, and they are all White men. Their identity of course, does not detract from their thoughtful contributions to the field of education and experiential learning. Dewey, for example, is known for his conceptualization of pragmatism, and his steadfast belief that the only way to know the world is to interact socially with it. Dewey labeled his own politics “radical liberalism” and openly critiqued capitalism for generating social contexts that benefit “private advantage and power” (Dewey, 1938, p. 81; Smith, Knapp, Seaman, & Pace, 2011). More contemporary scholars such as Jayson Seaman (the current Editor of the Journal of Experiential Education) and Jay Roberts (author of Beyond Learning by Doing [2012]) make considerable efforts to push the conversations about whose perspectives are taken up and valued in the field. For example, Roberts (2012) writes, “While it is undeniable that the dominant constructions of experiential education emerge from a Western worldview, it is also important to acknowledge the ways in which such histories have functioned to marginalize other, important ways of knowing about the concept of experience in education” (p. 19). He thoughtfully takes up the work of Patricia Hill Collins and delves into Apache notions of experience to unpack complexities and contradictions. These conversations are undoubtedly important ones, and yet, it is still through the words/publications of White men that the concepts are taken up. I wonder if there is a way that we can continue to value such perspectives in Experiential Learning & Education, while also problematizing – and actively working to mitigate – the absence and marginalization of other perspectives.

For example, when I search for literature and research in experiential learning and education, it is difficult to find publications by Women of Colour, Indigenous scholars, or community members who write outside of academia. Why might this be? Why are so many voices and perspectives not present in this field, and how is it that 90% of the citations originate from White men? Is it a problem with academia writ large, or with the peer review and publication process, or society broadly, or with the field? This is not a new or novel question, and the answer, I suspect, is complex, generational, and connected to all of these arenas.

For my part, especially as a White woman in academia, I am considering what I can do to ensure that my citational politics in experiential learning and education reflect an awareness of this issue. Here are some thoughts I’ve had (and gathered from others) on how to be more intentional about diversity and inclusion in my citational politics:

  • Dig deeper. Most search engines will offer up publications that have been cited the most. This usually means they are in peer-reviewed journals or books that centre the usual suspects, or “the fathers of experiential learning”
  • Look through community-led and community-based publications that exist outside of or marginal to academia. For example, the Carnegie Newsletter is published through the Carnegie Community Centre in the Downtown Eastside. “Its purpose is to provide a voice for the dynamic of life and struggle and to let all manner of physical, mental and spiritual creativity have expression” (Carnegie Newsletter Website). Publications include various forms of expertise and expression including journalistic pieces, poetry, and graphic art.
  • Don’t use scholarship tokenistically or to “tick a box.” This can be a difficult ask when academics are under constant pressure to read, write, and publish. Push yourself to engage with a text fully; grapple with its complexities; reflect on its connections to your own work.
  • Push beyond the name of your field. For example, just because scholars may not write in or for the field of “experiential learning” there is undoubtedly scholarship that takes up the intersection of experience and learning. This morning, I found and read an article by UBC Professor, Sarah Hunt, entitled “Ontologies of Indigeneity: The politics of embodying a concept” (2013) in which she compares her learning experiences in two spaces of knowledge production, the academic conference and the potlatch. It takes more reflection on my part to connect it to experiential learning and education, but the content undoubtedly pushes my understandings.
  • Begin Somewhere and Commit long-term.  Meaningful change doesn’t happen overnight. The foundations of my knowledge of experiential learning and education still rely upon mostly white male scholars, but change is incremental, intentional, and long-term. Start today, and for years to come, keep reading beyond the usual suspects, and past page 1 of your Google Scholar search.
  • Ask questions (of others).  Ask absentees (aka – those who are absent from the scholarship in a field) why they are not present. Do they choose not to be there, either because they feel unwelcome or simply disinterested? Are there material or social barriers? Perhaps the field just doesn’t resonate with their perspectives? Their answers might guide us in systemically transforming and reconceptualising the field so that it is more inclusive.
  • Ask questions (of yourself, especially if you’re working from a position of privilege):  In relation to Indigenous scholarship, for example, higher education and decolonization scholar Sharon Stein suggests in a 2017 thought piece that we ask the following questions:
    • What are we expecting to hear when Indigenous people speak, and are we able to hear them when they deviate from that script?
    • Are we romanticizing and/or homogenizing Indigenous communities and individuals, and if so why?
    • Are we selectivelyinterpreting and instrumentalizing Indigenous critiques and knowledgesfor our own political agendas? What should we do when, inevitably, different Indigenous peoples and communities offer contrasting, even conflicting, perspectives? In our efforts to emphasize/centre Indigenous voices, are we expecting Indigenous people to engage inpedagogical labor that should be our own responsibility?
    • How/can/should we construct truly horizontal relations amongst diverse collaborators, both Indigenous and not, given unequal institutional power?”

This topic has been on my mind a lot lately, and I appreciate those of you who have taken the time to provide feedback or resources for this piece before I shared it (Special thanks to: Amy Perreault and Janey Lew of the Indigenous Initiatives Office; Sharon Stein, Professor at Idaho State University; Am Johal of SFU’s Community Engagement Office; Hélène Frohard-Dourlent of the Student Diversity Initiative; and Katie Forman of the UBC Learning Exchange). Experiential Learning and Education is not the only field that needs to work on/at its own (exclusionary) citational politics, and I hope this piece will generate further conversations that are so needed at UBC and beyond.

*If you have or know about critical, creative, and diverse publications in (or related to) the field of Experiential Learning and Education, I would love to know about them. Thanks in advance.


Carnegie Newsletter (2018). About. Retrieved from

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and Education.New York: Collier Books, MacMillan.

Hunt, S. (2013). Ontologies of Indigeneity: The politics of embodying a conceptCultural Geographies21(1), 27-32.

Roberts, J. W. (2012). Beyond learning by doing: Theoretical currents in experiential education. Routledge.

Smith, Knapp, Seaman, & Pace (2011). Introduction. In Smith, T. E., & Knapp, C. E. (Eds.). Sourcebook of experiential education: Key thinkers and their contributions. Routledge.

Stein, S. (2017). So You Want to Decolonize Higher Education? Necessary Conversations for Non-Indigenous People. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from

Wheeler, K (Producer). (2018, February 25). Unreserved [Radio Series]. Toronto: CBC Radio.

*A quick note / revision, courtesy of Sheryl Adams with UBC Library Services: Regarding my comment that most databases bring up the most-cited works, this is actually true for Google Scholar, but not for all data bases that the library licenses. Those databases are sorted by relevance rather than citations, meaning that it depends on how many of your search terms appear in the title/abstract/full text of the articles.