Everyone learns differently, so the conventional knowledge/skills transfer style of teaching and training often fails. The traditional process wrongly assumes what needs to be learned and how best to impart the knowledge, with the subject matter typically focused around an exam or other end-goal that does not match the learner’s natural strengths.
Experiential learning takes a different path, addressing individual growth and potential. It’s a style adaptable around individual differences, and therefore one more likely to improve confidence and a person’s sense of value and purpose.
Essentially, experiential learning is achieved through individual experience and involvement. It’s often referred to as ‘hands-on’, contrasting with the ‘chalk-and-talk’ method of teacher talking and students listening. On a slightly deeper level, conventional teaching is about the transfer of predetermined knowledge/skills from the outside, meant for external purpose; experiential learning is about the development of people as individuals from the inside and for internal purpose.
So, why is internal development so important? Because it’s the key factor in ensuring that people are happy in what they are doing.
By developing individuals rather than transferring data and capabilities, you engender a rounded sense of purpose and fulfilment, and from this stronger emotional wellbeing comes sustainably productive work and a desire to challenge oneself.
Kolb’s Learning Cycle
To grasp the process of experiential learning, you must understand the conceptual basis, and that’s represented perfectly by Kolb’s Learning Cycle.
1. Activity or Action
2. Review to Develop Understanding
3. Identify Positives – Continue with Confidence
4. Identify Negatives – Develop Ideas to Improve and Overcome
5. Select and Apply Improvements
6. Broadly: you do, you review, and then you develop and implement ways to improve.
12 Central Principles of Experiential Learning
1. The learner is key
They must be prepared to actively develop their understanding, evaluate their performance, and work hard to apply the appropriate learning.
2. Facilitation is light.
Development and understanding must come from within.
3. Facilitators help create opportunities
Instead of teaching directly, create an atmosphere and framework conducive to experiential learning.
4. Reactions Vary
Don’t prejudge results. Individuals will differ in what they take from an activity.
5. Single Events Prompt Multiple Learning Opportunities
There may be one central goal, but also a change for learning on deeper levels.
6. Confidence Comes First
Develop a supportive environment before addressing attitudes and behaviour.
7. Activity Must Engage
The ideal activity engages and stimulates, but is not an end in and of itself.
8. Meaningful Reviews Are Key
Reviews should be planned, not left to chance. You should make things open-ended, addressing the contributions of each individual, and criticism must be constructive.
9. Focus on the Positive
It’s easy for teachers to focus on the negative. Combine constructive criticism with positive feedback.
10. Engage During Reviews
The review process isn’t one-sided. Ask stimulating questions to help people develop their own ideas and conclusions.
11. Believe in the Learners
An effective facilitator of experiential learning needs to believe each learner has the potential to progress. It’s about them, not you.
12. Getting Started Comes First
It sounds obvious, but you need to find a group and get going. Talk to people. Think about your own past. Have a go at it, and experience the process first-hand.