Copyright Association for Experiential Education 2007

Experiential Learning: A Best Practice Handbook for Educators and Trainers Beard, Colin, and Wilson, John P. (2006). Experiential learning: A best practice handbook for educators and trainers (2nd edition). London: Kogan Page. 314 pages. ISBN 0-7494-4489-4

Experiential education (EE), like many of the things I most value, is a beautiful paradox. On the one hand, as the oft-quoted Keith King saying goes, “It is just good education,” while on the other, it took the Association of Experiential Education years of co-creation to refine its definition. The challenge of defining EE becomes apparent when attempting to inspire a new generation to join the ranks of experiential educators while neither overwhelming them nor making it appear too simple. Just what are the components of “good education”? Thankfully, walking this slack line has been made a little easier by Colin Beard and John Wilson’s recent revision of Experiential Learning: A Best Practice Handbook for Educators and Trainers. Beard and Wilson have written a book that should appeal to the novice and “master” teacher alike. In a relatively short and pithy text, they manage to convey significant and far-reaching theory and provide a number of tactics for practitioners.

The authors, who are housed in academia and industry, have brought the two worlds together in these pages, splitting the book equally between theory and practice. Theory and practice are supported by vignettes and practical suggestions on how both can be applied. The result is a text that makes a persuasive argument for experiential learning that takes us beyond the usual definitions and arguments.

This book was written outside of the United States, which draws a footnote of timely relevance. Understanding diverse cultures is a significant need of our time. Technology, in many ways, brings us closer to other cultures; whether we understand these cultures or not has more significant ramifications when combined with this proximity. Through this book we delight in sharing interpretations of common ideas from another culture’s perspective. When the authors take something we believe in and we see how they have interpreted it, we experience a shared sense of ideals. Reading material from other nations (Australia, Czechoslovakia, South Africa and Finland, for instance), inevitably helps us to see how we are all alike and yet how our differences can and should be cherished. To fully understand these valuable implications it is interesting to note that 2000 copies of this book were sold in China within the first three months of it being translated (Sheffield Hallam University, 2004).

This book is not a typical second edition as it has been entirely revamped with only a few of the original chapters left intact. Like the first edition (published in 2002), the updated edition is founded upon a model called the Experiential Learning Combination Lock. It is a sound model that is easy to use and explains the complexities of the field. The authors’ ideas have evolved significantly since the first edition and they have taken critiques to heart. For example, Neill (in progress) made a fair assessment of the first edition when he wrote:

The learning combination lock lends itself to the design of ‘artificial’ experiential and adventure education programs where activities are, indeed, ‘dialled up’ from a ‘bag of tricks.’ The main theoretical advance of the model is that it incorporates individual difference elements that have become popular in educational psychology. However the model does not incorporate the role of the instructor, group, program philosophy, and the individual’s past experience.

Included in the new edition is a chapter on facilitation that tackles the first and third of Neill’s charges. The authors have also moved beyond the borders of educational psychology with the new edition referencing recent texts from experiential education, adventure therapy, management development, psychology, and education.

The result is an important contribution to our field. The book chronicles an existing body of work, thus retaining old favorites, and introduces new ones while stretching the boundaries of how we can use them. Both practical and grounded in solid and varied theory, it will benefit practitioners, academics, and students alike.

Neill, J. T. (in progress). Enhancing personal effectiveness: The impacts of outdoor education programs. Unpublished manuscript, University of Western Sydney, NSW, Australia. Retrieved September 11th, 2006, from
Sheffield Hallam University (2004.) Top human accolade for international trainer. Retrieved September 11th, 2006, from