Experiential learning: the act of learning from experiences

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Every day we are involved in experiences - observing, encountering or being part of an occurrence that shapes our knowledge "some are the product of social mores and social expectations, still others are new, different and challenging" (Boud, Keogh, & Walker, 1985). The everyday process of learning from experience becomes experiential learning (using experience for learning) "experiential learning theory describes a holistic integrative perspective on learning that combines experience, perception, cognition, and behaviour" (Kolb, 1984, p. 21). Experiential learning is the act of learning gained from the experiences an individual has been involved in or has experienced. Experiential learning theories have been developed to describe the methods by which experiential learning is gained. This perspective on learning 'experientially' emphasizes the central role that experience plays in the learning process (Kolb, 1984). "Learning is described as a process whereby concepts are derived from and continuously modified by experience, no two thoughts are ever the same as experience always intervenes" (Kolb, 1984, p. 26) or the "product of reflection upon experience, with the nature of the reflection and the quality of the experience being significant to overall learning" (science direct, 2005). Although experiential learning is differentiated from other modes of learning, knowledge is gained from a combination of methods such as behavioural learning, although behavioural learning theories deny any role for conscious and subjective experience in the learning process (Kolb, 1984). Education is the act of imparting or acquiring knowledge and this may be gained in many different ways. Any method of learning that knowledge should be explored, to provide a better understanding of how we learn.

There are many theories about how knowledge is gained. Experiential learning theorists have classified learning into two types - Cognitive and Experiential. Cognitive learning is the knowledge that is gained from actively engaging to memorise information - making a conscious choice to learn the information. Learning in an experiential situation engages the subconscious mind and is derived from the act of doing - participation may not be required for an experience to be engaged in. How knowledge acquisition takes place, determines the methods that are used to deliver information or situations that may form a learning experience. Learning theorists have attempted to define experiential learning and produced many models to examine the stages of learning encountered in various experiential learning cycles. Each model uses different phases to determine how the knowledge is gained from the experience. These range from single stages models - where the experience itself is sufficient for learning to two, three four or more stages. All have been used to further refine learning gained experientially and describe the processes that are involved. David Kolb, John Dewey and Bert Juch are theorists have attempted to define experiential learning with these models. As more research is conducted the models provided, are modified to further explain how knowledge is gained or imparted. This in turn provides educators and students with tools intended to increase the knowledge sharing process. This report will focus on the Bert Juch, 4 phase model.

Analysis of the learning cycle

The Bert Juch 4 phase learning cycle is shown below in Fig.1

Fig. 1

The 4 phases of this cycle are;





As shown in the diagram above, all of the phases revolve around the inner self. Juch recognises that the subject cannot learn from the experience unless the inner self is involved. Not all experiences may be valid learning experiences and there may be no knowledge gained by the subject from their involvement in an experience. I have approached the discussion of these phases by placing the thinking phase at the top of the model or as a starting point. All experiential learning models are cyclic in some way, whether the cycle is closed as in this case or open as in the case of a 5 phase model that explores transference as part of the knowledge continuum. By placing the 'Thinking' phase as a starting point I am using 'Thinking' to illustrate that consideration is given to the approach before a decision is made by an individual to become involved in an experience.

Phase 1 - Thinking

"Cogito ergo sum (I think, therefore I am)" - René Descartes

The 'Thinking' phase literally takes into account the thought processes prior to an individual taking any action towards making a decision or choice. Consideration is given to the risk involved versus the possible rewards. Involving previous experiences, opinions & results and weighing them up against the known or perceived rewards or outcomes, determines an individual's participation in an experience. The 'Thinking' phase may be instigated by a prior learning experience or exposure to a concept, idea or ideal not previously considered. Resultant opportunities, objectives or outcomes are form part of the decision making process.

"The Red Bull Trolley Grand Prix" was advertised during January and February of this year. Having a previous involvement with other events of a similar nature my thoughts were influenced by my previous positive experience. The influence of my previous experience and the perceived benefits of continued involvement galvanised my thoughts. Weighing up the pros and cons, investment of time and money versus the enjoyment and possible accolades, against my previous experience was invaluable in the decision making process. The awareness of the work and tight timeframes involved certainly caused me to consider the decision more carefully than I may have without previous knowledge of the event. The 'Thinking' phase is continual throughout the learning cycle as concepts and situations are assessed as individual components, part of the overall experience. There is a seamless overlapping continuation into the 'Planning' phase.

Phase 2 - Planning

"A failure to plan is a plan to fail" Unknown

A plan reduces uncertainty, increases understanding and improves efficiency. A plan may take a split second or a lot longer to formulate and is a part of the experience overall or forms an experience within itself. Having a plan however, does not necessarily mean that it is a good plan. In the 'Planning' phase, variables are taken into account and a direction and method for achieving desired objectives is decided. There are as many variables as there are plans, ideas or concepts and many theorists have tried to define planning as it applies to a particular activity. The basic concept of planning is addressing the situation and applying the thoughts processed before putting them into a framework so that an objective may be achieved. The framework is able to be presented to others, adjusted to realise growth within the activity or allow for contingencies that may arise. The main point of conjecture within any discussion about planning is the inclusion or exclusion of variables that may affect the outcome. Including more variables increases timeframes and reduces efficiencies but may provide more detail allowing problem resolution at earlier stages throughout the experience. Equally a failure to include variables may also mean that timeframes and efficiencies are affected adversely.

Experience gained prior to engaging in the 'Planning' phase can enable the planner to negate possible problems. When a trip is undertaken and there is no spare tyre, getting a flat tyre means you spend quite some time on the side of the road waiting for a vehicle to go by then trying to get someone to stop who may be able to help! In saying that, planning by another member of your group ensured that there was enough alcohol to serve the needs of those who were forced to wait for assistance. Plans can be overcomplicated or over simplified and can greatly affect the outcome of the experience for those involved.

Phase 3 - Doing

'Doing' is the engagement phase where the participants to the experience engage in the experience itself. Involvement may not be physical participation; engagement may be actively listening or viewing the event. Engagement in an experience denotes the subject's mental, physical, spiritual or emotional connection with the event. Equally attendance does not denote engagement and the subject may not gain any knowledge. Knowledge acquisition occurs if the subject becomes a participant in some way.

Experiential learning cycles.

Select a cycle that resonates with you.

Think about the components. Break down the processes. Discuss the various components using 3 references to describe the cycle used - recreation/sport/culture.

Highlight each of the components with references to your own experiences.

What is experience?

What is education?

What is reflection?

Incorporate 3 articles that are summarised to show examples of the learning experiential style discussed.

Bert Juch Experiential learning Cycle

Carl Rogers - freedom to learn

Self initiated learning lasts longer

Learners engagement in experience

Relevance to learner

Self evaluation

Self driven - control of flow of knowledge