Charles Darwin and the Case For Experiential Education

    Posted: August 31, 2016

    If we want to understand the importance of experiential educational perhaps one of the best routes is to examine the discoveries that daring thinkers made when they stepped outside of the conventional routine of traditional education. So, let’s talk about Charles Darwin, quite possibly one of the world’s most influential thinkers.



    Darwin himself wasn’t one of his classes top students, in fact when it came to school he struggled. He was interested in geology and found that he did better in this subject than others and was thus encouraged, by his mentor Adam Sedgwick, to join the H.M.S Beagle on its voyage to document and understand the resources and market value that the South American continent possessed. Darwin secured his spot under captain FitzRoy, joined the five year voyage, and in the process found his passion for biology.


    On the open sea, stopping off on different islands and countries throughout South America, Darwin developed a curiosity in his surroundings, he started taking notes about all that he was observing and he started noticing discrepancies in the plant and animal life around him. Nowhere were his observations and findings more significant than they were in the Galapagos. He was only on the islands for a total of five weeks, but as he traveled from island to island he saw discreet differences between seemingly similar species.

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    He left and it wasn’t until years later that he started to develop his theory of evolution, using the distinct differences that he documented during his travels as his main evidence.


    What’s the point? What is the connection between Darwin and service learning? Darwin isn’t a classic example of service learning, he wasn’t working in conjunction with a local community in order to better the area. However service learning is a specific type of experiential education and what Darwin is is a near perfect example of the power and benefits of learning outside of the classroom.

    Darwin wasn’t seen as a great student and yet when he was given the space to think in the capacity that worked best for him, when he was awakened by the world around him, when he was able to pursue his own passions instead of the topics around him, he made observations that changed the world.

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    What Darwin represents is the untapped potential that many possess. He is a classic example of why experiential education is of such importance. If we don’t give creative minds the chance to wander, to discover new concepts, to travel down paths not always presented in the classroom we all might miss out. Individuals might not realize their own brilliance and society might not reach new understandings that are not already written down in text books.

    Further Reading: How Service Learning Turned Me into a Global Citizen

    GVI is a multi-award winning Service Learning organization. Find out more about our international service learning programs and see how students from around the world are making a difference.