In support of a bill before the state legislature to establish a polytechnic school in San Luis Obispo, Tribune journalist Myron Angel wrote that he hoped the school would “teach the hand as well as the head so that no young man or woman will be set off in the world to earn their living as poorly equipped as was I when I landed in San Francisco in 1849.” Angel was instrumental in the creation of Cal Poly’s Learn by Doing motto, proposing in a 1898 San Luis Obispo Breeze editorial that “[w]ithout a thought of disloyalty to the great universities, may it not be … better to divide the patronage, divert some of the endowments and taxes and … [make] a place in the country … for the ‘practical application’ of the arts and sciences … a truly polytechnic school.” A residential campus from the beginning, the school, known as “the Poly,” was established as a Learn by Doing institution under the guidance of its first director, Leroy Anderson. Cal Poly evolved to become the “comprehensive polytechnic” that it is today, but the Learn by Doing philosophy remains at the core of what it does.
Learn by Doing at Cal Poly involves aspects of both “experiential learning” and “discovery learning.” Experiential learning is sometimes treated as distinct from discovery learning. Experiential learning is an active learning process in which students learn from the experience of testing ideas and assumptions. In experiential learning faculty members set out clear activities with defined learning objectives that students need to meet. Discovery learning involves the process of a student learning for herself or himself in problem solving situations. The role of the faculty member in discovery learning is to facilitate discovery, though this can take many forms. For example, the faculty member may provide very little background and simply set out the problem to be solved. Alternatively, the faculty member can provide a strong foundation upon which students construct a solution to the problem in need of solving.