Development and Validation of the Experiential Learning Environment Survey
Background and Purpose: The purpose of this study is to validate a new instrument, the Experiential Learning Environment Survey (ELES). This scale is designed to measure students’ perception and value of an experience-based educational activity.
Social work education inherently utilizes experiential learning approaches; through for example, mock therapy sessions as a method of rehearsing practice skills and techniques, through in-class role-playing as a means of introducing real-world dilemmas, and through field placement or internships where students gain hands-on experience in an authentic setting. While there are several instruments designed to assess traditional educational atmospheres and learning styles, no instruments exist to date that capture experientiallearning practices specifically.
Methods: An initial item pool was generated based on constructs identified in relevant literature, establishing evidence of construct validity. An expert panel of academics and practitioners reviewed the scale for face and content validity. The ELES, as well as two validation instruments and a demographics questionnaire, were administered to a purposive sample of 553 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in an online or face-to-face human services course at a large, southeastern public university. Students were purposively selected if they were currently or had recently participated in an experiential learning opportunity.
Results: The initial 36-item pool was reduced to 30 items based on preliminary reviewer feedback and when alpha-if-item-deleted scores on a reliability analysis indicated marked improvement. Evidence of factorial validity was established through a confirmatory factor analysis using LISREL 8.7. Items were retained if they loaded significantly onto their proposed factor above .300 (22 items retained). Results indicate a good model fit: χ2 = 574.21, df = 194 (χ2 / df= 2.96:1), RMSEA =.060, CFI= .954, and SRMR= .035, allowing seven error terms to co-vary.
Alpha coefficients for the three subscales as well as the total scale include: Active Learning .854, Relevance .897, Utility .879, and global .947. Evidence of convergent construct validity was tested by examining correlations between the ELES subscales and the Distance Education Environments Learning Survey- Adapted subscales and between the global ELES and the Course Valuing Inventory. All hypothesized relationships were supported by significant correlations where appropriate. Evidence of discriminant construct validity was also tested; and all hypothesized relationships were supported.
Conclusions and Implications: Results from this validation study suggest that the ELES may be a valid and reliable tool for assessing students’ perception of an experiential learning opportunity within social work curriculum.
The ELES has practical application. Educators should strive to provide the most effective and valuable learning experiences for students in attempts to train competent and confident practitioners. In an effort to improve practices in higher education and increase students’ ability to critically engage with social work curriculum, the ELES may serve as an assessment tool to evaluate the efficacy of experiential teaching methods.