Missionary Training

How BGU Incorporates Experiential Learning Into Its Programs

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Written by Paul Hartford

“Experience is a great teacher,” we have been told. Actually, experience is just… experience. It takes more than an experience to produce learning. But, experience is an excellent platform for learning, and all of the undergraduate degree programs offered by Bethany Global University have significant experiential learning opportunities. These include Outreach, Practical Training (our own version of “work-study”) and the Global Practicum (AA) and Global Internship (BA). There are many good reasons why experiential learning is important.

Here are five ways experiential learning is important:

1. Situation and Context

We link information to our environment. What we learn in a classroom links to the physical classroom itself. When we step out of the classroom, that information may seem irrelevant, or difficult to recall. When learning emerges from the context in real life situations, we make stronger connections to larger life issues. A recent graduate said it this way, “Being in Thailand… opened my heart and eyes to a broader perspective of what it truly means to be a follower of Jesus.” While he had been taught about following Jesus, the context became a platform for really learning it.

2. Continuity

Most of life-long learning is experiential. We abstract past and present experiences into concepts and future opportunities. Experiential learning engages important life skills like critical thinking, analysis, and creativity. We have seen graduates of our program step into leadership in mission organizations because they learned to see opportunity, a skill gained through experience.

3. Ambiguity and Complexity

The ministry situations missionaries face every day are ambiguous, under-defined, and messy. Training for ministry defies standardization or systemization. I have taught what discipleship should look like in a classroom, but each disciple-making encounter is unique and each potential disciple brings different life experiences, preconceptions, expectations, unresolved baggage, etc. Disciple-making requires the ability to negotiate ambiguity and complexity, and both of these are best learned through reflected experience.

4. Reflection

By reflection we do not mean a passive contemplation. It is the ability to engage the immediate experience, reflect on it, abstract from it and create from it new applications. Going through this process “made you more patient with the people” one alumna said, “because you understood where they were coming from. It helped you to share the gospel because it helped you to see what was important to them and how they thought about things.”

5. Collaboration

Most “messy” situations in life are not encountered alone. School taught us that work is only valid if done independently, but we were not made to live that way. We each bring our own unique capacity to ministry opportunities. As another alumna put it “Working in a team… gave me the chance to see that my weaknesses could be covered by other’s strengths.”

By building into our programs guided, reflected and collaborative ministry, we allow our students to get the most out of the experience of ministry and learn at a deeper level. We may start in a classroom, but then we get them out of the classroom and into the harvest.

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