Touted as the future of learning in some quarters, while heavily criticised in others, experiential learning has always invited the audience to debate, as educators sit down to reflect on the practice.

Being associated with the profession of teaching, I too, have been a part of various such mass invites – albeit only watching from the sides, attentively listening to what each of the groups has to say.

I have heard the opinions of the proponents, listened to the detractors’ point of view and have implemented the practice as part of my teaching methodology.

Today, I finally decided to communicate my perspective on experiential learning.

Starting with the fundamentals:

What is Experiential Learning

“Experiential learning or practical learning, is a learning process that revolves around the idea of supporting students to apply their existing knowledge to real world problems, in order, to further expand on their concepts, explore new findings and test these new findings.”

An Example

Here, is an example, to help you understand the concept even better:

  • Consider, that you want to teach your students about structural rigidity of different geometric shapes.
  • Rather than delivering a lecture and furnishing your students with the information on which geometric structures are more rigid, you instead decide to adopt a practical approach.
  • You ask them to build the strongest structure, with the help of ice lolly sticks that will support 700 grams of weight.
  • They start working on it, produce different geometrical structures and observe which structure supports the weight for the longest time period.
  • They list their observations, and using the observations they conclude some important principles.
  • With those principles in mind, they modify their construction practices and try to come up with an answer to the presented problem.

Your students were exposed to a real-life problem. They started working on it, leveraging any initial knowledge of mechanical principles which they had. They reflected on the observed experience. Used the reflection to expand their concepts and explore new findings. And, finally, they put their new findings to test by endeavouring to refine their shaped structures.

This learning process is an example of experiential learning.

The Elements of Experiential Learning

Every, experiential learning process is structured on four basic elements:

  • A Concrete Experience: This is basically a simulated situation which provides the students a platform to initiate the learning process. In the example, we discussed above, the designed situation of making a structure and testing its rigidity, serves as the concrete experience.
  • Reflective Observation: This element is concerned with the observational and reflection practices of the students to make sense of what happened. As the students produced different structures and tested their rigidity, they reflected on the observation.
  • Abstract Conceptualization: The observations and reflections made, are then distilled into a new concept. Your students learning which geometrical arrangement apparently produced the most stability, is the abstract conceptualization in the referenced experiential learning example.
  • Active Experimentation: This is the stage, at which students test their abstract conceptualization to see whether they hold true or not. Your students refining the structure based on the hypothetical concepts, to come up with the strongest structure, is an example of active experimentation.

But, this is not where the learning stops. Your students still need to validate it from an authentic source, as experiments can be biased. That is when, they communicate their learnings to the class, with other students and you.

Benefits of Experiential Learning

There are several benefits of adopting the learning process as part of your teaching practices:

  • It keeps the learners motivated, by actively engaging them during the learning process.
  • It helps provide effective learning, as it promotes critical thinking, assessment and decision making in students.
  • It leads to deeper understanding, which at times may accelerate the learning process. As students think, assess and act on their own, leading to the exploration of new findings, they are able to apprehend subject expansions more profoundly.
  • It instils in students to learn from their mistakes, hence, making them better equipped to find problems to real life challenges.

As, Benjamin Franklin would say:

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I will learn.”

What’s the Role of Educators in Experiential Learning?

We, act as facilitators in this whole process.

As educators, it is our responsibility to design and select a concrete experience that fulfils the objective that we want to achieve through it. The objective could be to further deepen the concept of students, expose them to novel and unpredictable learning, help them learn from mistakes or a combination of multiple.

Teachers are required to help learners acknowledge the link between different elements of a subject, and how to use the connection to further expand their understandings.

During experiential learning, it is the responsibility of educators to ensure emotional and physical safety of the students that are part of the learning process.

Negatives – My Observations

Even though, I have found the strategy to be useful in helping to shape up effective learning environment for students, experiential learning for me, does come with few negatives, as per my observations.

  • Students might find it difficult to maintain their focus on learning, as they are exposed to an extensive repertoire of elements which often serve as distractors.
  • Experiential learning, could often be difficult to execute for groups of students. It is all about learning from one’s experiences, hence, if you have groups of students to facilitate, you really need to define the objectives on granular level. Otherwise, students, working in a group, may struggle to streamline their efforts and the overall effect could be destructive.
  • At times, experiential learning may fail to stimulate reflective observation in students, if contradictions are not being observed in the habitual experience.
  • The overall process can sometimes yield no valuable outcomes, that can be reported or assessment – however this is where technology had made advances , and made this more manageable for teachers and student through applications such as Kapture8

Conclusion

Keeping in context, the points discussed above, I would say that experiential learning is a useful and absolutely vital strategy that should be incorporated by teachers. I know that I based a lot of my teaching life around learning through doing and to this date I have emails and messages of thanks from students.

I have always felt teachers always want to do their best but one of the biggest barriers to exposing students to practical learning has been the recording, assessment and monitoring and assessment of it!

So please do go and check out Kapture8 because that is the sole reason I developed this platform – to enable great teachers develop creative mind-sets!

Until next time, my message to all educators:

You all are doing a great job. Keep serving to the best of your abilities.

Learn it!  Know it! Show it!

Sign up for your demo at Kapture8.com