The assessment of prior experiential learning began to go mainstream in the early
1970’s with the creation of CAEL, led by Dr. Morris Keeton. Today, after more than 50
years of collecting information and conducting research on the assessment of prior
learning, we know that experiential learning, as well as other learning done outside of
academic circles, has substantive and extensive academic and occupational value. In
other words, we have proved that learning is ongoing and lifelong, as well as multi-
dimensional, regardless of historic academic bias to the contrary.
In the process of learning how to assess experiential learning, we discovered the value
of reflection; that, yes, the process of reflecting on past learning identifies and validates
personal, academic, and occupational "knowledge". But it also identifies and values two
other dimensions of learning and its employment in real life: cross-cutting critical
thinking abilities as well as personal behavioral traits. Disciplined reflection strengthens
the ability of the learner to become an active lifelong learner with the ability to identify
learning in life events. As an early graduate of the Community College of Vermont
(CCV) told me, “I appreciate the degree. But really, thanks for the assessment program.
Now I know that I am a learner and that I’ll never stop learning!”
Over the years, I have come to understand and recognize that reflection is the process
of extracting meaning from your lived experience. Learning to reflect, and being actively
encouraged and rewarded for doing so in an organized and dynamic learning
community, sows the seeds for becoming a lifelong learner. It strengthens and deepens
all three dimensions of learning: content, critical skill development, and behavior. When
an institution encourages all three of these dimensions, it enhances its ultimate value to
the learner, the institution, and society at large.
Currently, critics of higher education are questioning its value as the main pathway to
good jobs and a productive social, civic, and economic life. The latest term for this
critique is “the paper ceiling”. College takes too much time and is too unproductive for
too much money, the argument goes. And for other learners, a lack of respect for their
life and cultural experiences as well as their natural talent, when combined with the
other negatives, is also a significant obstacle. Colleges expand the value proposition
when they deepen the learning and harness that natural talent to enhance performance.
The objective should be to turn classroom learning in the traditional format into a three-
dimensional experiential learning event. This can happen by creating a learning
community in a dynamic environment where participants can explore points of view,
perspectives, and proposed employment of knowledge in an ongoing discussion with
others. This approach encourages and integrates the classic, but informal student
discussions that previously may have occurred spontaneously in the student union or in
a Friday night dorm discussion in a special, data-driven, and more formal way.
More specifically, learning events supported and enhanced through Yellowdig Engage
are three-dimensional. The process reinforces and encourages content acquisition
(learning something that can be known and applied), cross-cutting critical thinking
abilities (applying knowledge in response to a life situation through critical thinking,
problem-solving, or analytical thinking), and behavior (doing so effectively given the
situation in which the experience is occurring).
By understanding and encouraging these three domains of experiential learning, this
approach fosters reflection through engagement and dynamic exploration of topics
pertinent to specific course objectives, whatever they may be. It also improves
completion and success rates by eight per cent or more, while significantly improving
the quality and multi-dimensional aspects of learning as well, thus enhancing the
learner's life-long learning capacity.
There are two other characteristics which enrich the actual participation and climate in a
course. First, learners should be able to bring other, related information and articles to
the conversations; to share articles, blogs, and videos from courses and sources to
augment their understanding, make a point, or simply to share for the benefit of the
class. This helps to integrate what they are learning into their current life and the world
around them. For example, during the Covid pandemic, healthcare-oriented courses
might also discuss the COVID virus, vaccines, and public policy. As the pace of
innovation grows, this would become an excellent way for folks to remain relevant and
current, as course refresh often takes years.
Second, a lot of instructors tell us that Yellowdig not only saves them “course-
management time”, but that the gameful learning environment motivates learners to
participate and also makes their experience more positive and joyful.
Finally, the use of technology in creating this learning environment is both unique and
multi-faceted as well. First, it relies on a consistent platform/AI construction and process
in which faculty are trained. This creates a level of consistency across multiple sections
and different subject matter fields that would have been impossible to attain previously.
Second, it must generate data that allows the faculty member to evaluate participation
and performance without directing or dominating the discussion. In doing so, it
establishes the basis for including the discussions in the overall course evaluation, thus
encouraging and rewarding active and sustained learner participation and engagement.
Yellowdig brings a model for achieving this learning environment.
Let’s call it the Yellowdig trifecta: increased retention, deeper learning, and developing
lifelong learning skills through reflection. And, on top of all that, it is more fun!
About the Author, Dr. Peter Smith:
Just two years after earning his Bachelor of Arts from Princeton University in
1968, Peter Smith led the effort to design and establish The Community
College of Vermont, now entering its 53 rd year of operations.
He also served as founding president of California State University Monterey
Bay from 1995 to 2005. Smith was responsible for building the university
and guiding it through all stages of accreditation while raising nearly $100
million externally to academic buildings and programs.
After leaving Cal State Monterey Bay in 2005, Smith served as Assistant
Director General for Education for the United Nations Educational,
Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris, France where he was
responsible for more than 700 staff located in 30 countries.
Smith also served as Dean of the George Washington University Graduate
School of Education and Human Development from 1991 to 1994 after
serving his home state of Vermont as a state senator (1980-82), Lt. Governor
(1982-86) and Congressman-at-Large. (1989-1990)
Smith currently serves on the following Boards
National Center for Higher Education Management Systems
National Council - State Authorization and Regulatory Authority
DEAC National Board
Association of Governing Boards – Senior Fellow