Motivating students to engage in experiential learning: A tension-to-learn theory

Alvin C. Burns, James W. Gentry

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


The authors describe a tension-to-learn theory of experiential learning and incorporate a motivation construct that is needed to overcome student inertia, which may restrict participation. The theory is based largely on Loewenstein's manageable gap perspective of curiosity as well as on the role that absorptive capacity plays in providing the learner's knowledge base. The theory posits that if a learner perceives a manageable gap between the base and the target learning and if the target learning is relevant to the learner's value system, strong internal tension-to-learn will result. At the same time, learning must be legitimized, and internal learning-based legitimization mechanisms are more powerful validation processes than are external performance-based ones. The authors note that some experiential learning situations can deter tension-to-learn because learners may perceive mastery of the exercise's operation as unmanageable.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)133-151
Number of pages19
JournalSimulation and Gaming
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998
Externally publishedYes


  • Absorptive Capacity
  • Curiosity
  • Experiential Learning
  • Experiential Learning Theory
  • Learner Motivation
  • Learning Orientation
  • Learning Relevance
  • Legitimization of Larning
  • Tension-To-Learn

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business, Management and Accounting (miscellaneous)
  • Computer Science Applications


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