We live in an experience economy. Today it is not about the destination, but the experience. Adult learners are not interested in being silent spectators. They want to be active participants. If learning is indeed the experience and not the stamp on the passport, what makes for a good learning experience?

There are many ways to travel and experience new horizons. One is to go with a large group hosted by a travel guide. This is economical and efficient. You get to see a lot of venues in a short period of time and buffets are included. People sit in rows in buses and listen to an expert lecture through a loud speaker system. Travelers are herded to well-known sights where they receive additional information and a quick investigation of the destination. They are shuffled again onto the bus and on to another city or cultural marker. There is little opportunity for a serendipitous adventure or taste of the local cuisine. The vacationers’ senses are so overloaded with information they can’t absorb it all. Thousands of pictures are taken, but they can’t remember much about the sight. Their passports are stamped and can be proudly displayed to friends. They are off to other countries, never to return to this one. The experience is about the travel guide and the stamp. Should they return on the trip, they would hear the same commentary and see the same sights. This is old school.

Imagine instead a group of friends that set their own course. Instead of a bus, they fly a private jet with clusters of seating facing one another to encourage conversation. Each traveler has read books about their destination, particularly on topics of their own interest. Each person becomes an “expert” on the journey and the collective exchange is greater than the one. They stop and peruse sites on their own time schedule. This arrangement allows for the group to explore the region, not just the tourist traps.

Experts are enlisted from time to time to answer questions and provide suggestions of other places they should explore. The group encounters locals who join them in the journey and serve as color analysts. The experience is centered on the goals of the sojourner, not the expert guide. They pause for a meal in an outdoor café and enjoy the sights, sounds, and the language of the people. Even the bad experiences are embraced and valued, because the travelers own the adventure. It is often the unforeseen experiences that are remembered the most. An explorer accompanies a fellow trekker, an expert photographer, on a photo shoot. This colleague gives the amateur tips on what to look for in order to capture the essence of the local people.

Adventurers arrive back home with more than a stamp on their passports. Their diaries are full of stories and adventures. They have an appreciation for the people and culture of their trip and a desire explore the region again, because every trip and every experience is different.

Each of these types of learning experiences has advantages and disadvantages. Some prefer to sit and listen. Others want to engage more deeply in the learning process. We know that students learn more when all of their senses are used and they are involved in the learning process. At Rockbridge Seminary, we’re about engaging people in a learning community. We are the private jet, not the tourist bus. Our curriculum is learner centered, rather than content centered. Students are responsible for their learning, but they are aided in their journey by expert faculty members and mentors. The student and faculty are colleagues, both contributing to the experience. Which learning approach is best for you? Do you want to be a tourist or a trekker?