The Power of Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning, Learn by Doing

How people learn varies from person to person. For example, some people need to hear instructions, where others need to see something with their eyes to truly grasp a new concept. In fact, there are three types of learners:

  • Visual
  • Auditory
  • Kinesthetic

In a previous blog, Maximize Teacher Team Building with Experiential Learning, we briefly explored how experiential learning can impact all three types of learners. However, it accomplishes much more than reaching all types of learners. It empowers a student enabling them to continually grasp concepts and solve problems.

Evolution of a New Way of Learning

The concept of experiential education is thought to be started by John Dewey in the late 1800s. At the time John Dewey introduced this concept into academia, education was primarily a passive experience for the student. Teachers/professors/instructors lectured, the students listened and then were tested on what was retained during the lecture. John Dewey identified a better way, empowering the student to think for themselves and not rely on content only. In other words, “learn by doing” creating experiences students could draw upon to learn.

Experiential learning was then applied to formal education by David Kolb in the 1970s as a four-part learning cycle:

  1. Concrete Experience; doing something, creating an experience
  2. Reflective Observation; reviewing, “reflecting” on the initial experience to identify inconsistencies between experience and understanding
  3. Abstract Conceptualism; reaching a conclusion, what was learned from the experience
  4. Active Experimentation; applying what was learned to real world situations

The learning cycle continues from there, taking what then becomes an evolved or existing experience (1), observing and reflecting on the experience (2), analyzing the experience to identified what was learned (3) and then using the new knowledge in the real world, creating a new experience (4).

The important thing to grasp is that true learning is ongoing, ever evolving based upon new experiences. Experiences can only exist if they are created. Sounds obvious, but in the traditional classroom of lecture and listen, students were not challenged to create new experiences, i.e. firsthand understanding of a concept. Experiential education expanded learning to the individual’s perspective.

Learn by Doing to Solve Problems

When learning how to solve a problem, every human being taps into personal knowledge. It is impossible to avoid. When a person experiences a concept first hand, what is learned becomes relevant and rewarding and not just theoretical.

Where a concept conveyed by a lecturer has the same viewpoint/conclusion, a personal experience with a concept is processed in a unique, specific way to the student. For some, a concept taught by a traditional lecture can be understood, but for most, it cannot be readily retained. It often takes firsthand knowledge from a unique perspective to grasp a new or evolve a previously conceived idea. Only a personal experience can accomplish this.

When collaborating with others, pooling various perspectives from personal experience can only help solve a problem. This in turn mimics society where people have different views of topics and information, equipping a student with problem solving skills and experiences collaborating within a group.

Overall, an experiential education helps to:

  • Enable students to think for themselves and not focus on content only
  • Retain new concepts since it applies to personal perspective
  • Apply concepts to real world scenarios and problems
  • Allow concepts to evolve and improve through collaboration with others

This why learn by doing and not passively observing helps develop problem solving skills. Concepts do not exist in a vacuum. Concepts are constantly tested in real world scenarios and must evolve to meet new perspectives and challenges.

Interested in Enhancing Experiential Learning Techniques?

The Fun Team Building Scholarship and Training for Experiential Education is open to college students who want to pursue careers in experiential education. That includes corporate team building, camp counselors, teachers, therapists, challenge course practitioners, environmental education, guides, instructors, coaches, mental health professionals, etc. Apply today to experience one-on-one training and life coaching with Larry Lipman!

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