Experiential Learning in Community Oral Health Promotion: A Qualitative Evaluation of the Experiential Aspects

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Abstract

Experiential learning is not merely a set of tools and techniques to provide experiences for knowledge and skills acquisition but also learning that embraces certain principles that must be present at some time during learning. These principles are (a) a mixture of content and process, (b) an absence of excessive judgment, (c) engagement in purposeful endeavors, (d) encouraging the big-picture perspective, (e) the role of reflection, (f) emotional investment, (g) reexamination of values, (h) meaningful relationships, and (i) learning outside one’s perceived comfort zones. We implemented and evaluated a learning initiative in which 30 dental students participated in oral health promotion activities in a residential care home for older adults. Qualitative feedback provided by 24 students suggested that the initiative provided a mixture of content and processes for knowledge application, gave “the opportunity to develop creative interventions and make decisions”; allowed students to “solve problems and share knowledge”; helped them “see the reality more . . . and reach out to the community”; led them to reflect on their effectiveness, “not sure what we have done are sufficient to actually help”; motivated them to “take some time off to understand their troubles” and not just doing what they thought was required; inspired them to examine their values around “feeling of social connectedness . . . and a desire to give back”; and provided opportunities to learn outside their comfort zones, “step out of campus and encounter all the different people” and demonstrated that the experiential aspects of experiential learning can and should be evaluated.

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