Friday, 4 September 2015

Experiential Learning: The how and why!

I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.~ Confucius, 450 BC
Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as "learning through reflection on doing”.
The concept of experiential learning explores the cyclical pattern of all learning from Experience through Reflection and Conceptualizing to Action and on to further Experience.
Experiential Learning includes an out-of-class component that involves the students in "doing" an aspect of the topic. These active learning experiences complement the students' in-class learning. Essentially, the experience gives it greater resonance, while the classroom studies give the students' "doing" greater contextualization. Consequently, students' understanding is deepened and enriched.
Experiential learning is a method of educating through first-hand experience. Skills, knowledge, and experience are acquired outside of the traditional academic classroom setting, and may include internships, studies abroad, field trips, field research, and service-learning projects.
The concept of experiential learning was first explored by John Dewey and Jean Piaget, among others. It was made popular by education theorist David A. Kolb, who, along with John Fry, developed the experiential learning theory, which is based on the idea that learning is a process whereby knowledge is created through transformation of experience. It is based on four main elements which operate in a continuous cycle during the learning experience:
  • Concrete experience
  • Reflective observation
  • Abstract conceptualization
  • Active experimentation
Let us try and understand what Experiential Learning really is and take a look at the four different approaches taken to understand a particular topic.
Learning by doing. Here the learner prefers to learn actively, through hands-on experience. The learning occurs at the same time as the doing. It is almost as if, out of awareness, the learner reviews what she has done, and stores the knowledge or skills somewhere in her experience.
Pooling experience. Here the learner prefers to reflect upon past and present experience, both from herself and others. From the mass of information which she is able to compile, she can then work out the principles. On later occasions she can then use the principles and theories which she has devised.
Applying the principles. Here the learner prefers first to understand the theory, for example by reading or by learning from recognized experts. She then wants to be able to use the theory to plan what can be done in the future.
Applying the principles in practice. Here the learner prefers to have a detailed and step-by-step “package” which can be followed. She can then “fine-tune” the package in the light of her experience with it, so that it suits her, and her situation, and the other people who will use it.
These four types of approaches are distinct and have there own results. The four styles can be put together to form a complete cycle: the “experiential learning cycle”. Action feeds into review; review precedes theory; theories are applied in planning, and then planning is implemented as action. A complete cycle which results in a takeaway that will improve there approach to learning.
All of this is pointless if you don’t have the attention and interest of participants. Effective learning activities therefore give a lot of attention to what might be called “energy management”. This if often most important at the transition from one segment of a learning activity to the next. It is especially important at the beginning and end, where it usually requires special attention.
It is common to talk about the end activity as “closure”. But if you tie off the experience too neatly, they may not take any of it with them. The best conclusion to aim for, I think, is one where people have thought about the later uses they can make of the material, but are not too distracted by it. You might think of it as emotional closure, but not cognitive or behavioural closure.
Some benefits for students are outlined below.
Increased interest and strengthened focus
Improved academic performance
Improved oral and written expression

Beneficial for developing engaged citizenship, fostering civic responsibility, and the importance of contributing to the broader public good
Improved attitudes toward social responsibility
Respect and tolerance for diversity and connection to others
Increased likelihood to continue working with the community

More defined career plans
Improved likelihood of going for higher studies
Professional networking opportunities