Integrating Learning and Experience through Experiential Learning

“Everyone has experience and learning; and new learning experiences emerge when we integrate the two together.”

I am stating the obvious when it comes to the diversity of people…
You know already knew that, right? You also know our experiences and our learning styles are diverse too, don’t you? I bet you do!

As you are reading this, you’re probably thinking about your own past and preferences when it comes to learning. Perhaps you remember the different classes, courses, seminars, and workshops that you took, from grade school to grad school. Maybe you remember the different teachers, professors, instructors, and facilitators you’ve had, from Mr. Simmons (from KISS) – that’s right – to Prof. Smith (from PhD Comics). You also probably learned by yourself, from a teacher, or in a group, with varying results, from reaching enlightenment or reaching for the door.

If I were to ask my readers, which includes you, what your best learning experience was like, you’d tell me about an experience that you had, probably in some combination of my guesses above. (Taking a class with Mr. Simmons would be unforgettable, and a course with Prof. Smith might be unbearable.) Now, the best part for me, and for you, is, everyone has their own story to tell. We’d also share our own learning style, learning preferences, learning experiences, and so on… So how do we put it all together?

The theory and practice of Experiential Learning offers such an attempt, in putting our experiences and learning together, so that we can learn better together.

Experience Based Learning Systems, Inc. is an organization that researches when and how Experiential Learning works best for us. In their website, they have a 26 minute introduction video detailing the theory, practice, effects, and impact of Experiential Learning. In this post, we will explore each section in brief, and I’m going to keep writing in a facilitator style this time.

Feel free to form groups before you start. We will begin with a team building problem solving exercise. (More on that exercise in a bit.)

First, let us answer the question for ourselves: “What is Experiential Learning?”

In a team building problem solving exercise, we are going to brainstorm in groups and come up with our answers to that question. During the exercise, we will see how each of us thinks, plans, decides, and acts as individuals and as a team. The exercise in itself also becomes a learning experience for us to reflect, conceptualize, and experiment upon. In effect, exercises like this one in Experiential Learning puts experience in the centre of our learning process. Consequently, this kind of learning allows us to take control of our learning.

When we start taking control of our learning, we as educators and learners become more aware of what goes on in our learning experience. For example:

  • We start to structure our learning environments differently: using lectures and/or experiences, fostering passive and/or active learning, etc.
  • We start to determine who learns better in what way(s): individually or corporately, reading or listening, writing or doing, etc.
  • We start to study team and group dynamics carefully: for better preparing students to work in teams for group projects

Next, let us try to build a workshop based Experiential Learning. In Experiential Learning, our teaching structure should have a foundation based on Kolb’s Learning Cycle:

  • Concrete Experience – the “Creating” process
  • Reflective Observation – the “Planning” process
  • Abstract Conceptualization – the “Deciding” process
  • Active Experimentation – the “Acting” process

This Learning Cycle provides the hub of our Experiential Learning workshop. Mind you, you probably know of certain situations where this kind of workshop works really well, and other situation where it really didn’t. Perhaps these are what came to your mind:

  • Completing a group project that require creativity, with a group of creative people? Awesome!
  • Studying Law that requires memorization, with a group of competitive people? Bummer!

One important reminder for us is that we should seriously take into consideration the nature of the content and curriculum before we plan our course. We should also respectfully take into account the culture and customs of our students before we execute it. For example, suddenly throwing in a group project during the first tutorial of a language course where nobody knows each other would be a terrible idea! However, the same group project carefully introduced to the class after an incremental series of solo studies, paired conversations, self reflection, peer review, and team building might just benefit the same group in ways that taking an online language course by yourself cannot!

Finally, let us come up with a list of ways we can best fit our workshop with our students. To this well, we should first account for the diversity in our students:

  • Start with the learner’s experience
  • Help students discover their learning styles
  • Create a team learning experience – group projects, problem solving

We should also account for how the learning styles and personalities between teachers and learners fit. To help us start with this, we can explore the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory – (see Short Summary of Each Type). Inventories like this can help us start to see which types of people work well in which situation, and with which people.

  • ISTJ – Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging – “The Logistician”
  • ISFJ – Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judging – “The Defender”
  • INFJ – Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judging – “The Advocate”
  • INTJ – Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging – “The Architect”
  • ISTP – Introversion, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving – “The Expert”
  • ISFP – Introversion, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving – “The Adventurer”
  • INFP – Introversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving – “The Mediator”
  • INTP – Introversion, Intuition, Thinking, Perceiving – “The Logician”
  • ESTP – Extroversion, Sensing, Thinking, Perceiving – “The Entrepreneur”
  • ESFP – Extroversion, Sensing, Feeling, Perceiving – “The Entertainer”
  • ENFP – Extroversion, Intuition, Feeling, Perceiving – “The Campaigner”
  • ENTP – Extroversion, Intuition, Thinking, Perceiving – “The Debater”
  • ESTJ – Extroversion, Sensing, Thinking, Judging – “The Executive”
  • ESFJ – Extroversion, Sensing, Feeling, Judging – “The Consul”
  • ENFJ – Extroversion, Intuition, Feeling, Judging – “The Champion”
  • ENTJ – Extroversion, Intuition, Thinking, Judging – “The Commander”

There are other inventories too, such as the Learning Styles from Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory that can help us further. But of course, we wouldn’t want to pigeonhole people into set categories, much less stereotypes. But I think everybody starts simple (or at least try to start simple) as we learn more about ourselves and other people through learning and experience (just like we talked about with the learning cycle eh?)

How are we doing so far? I hope these activities helped you reflect on your past and preferences when it comes to learning and experience. Furthermore, I would cry tears of joy if they helped you discover your styles and strengths in teaching as your compare with those in your students as you prepare your course content and curriculum!

What is Experiential Learning to you, and how would you plan an Experiential Learning Activity? Write it down in the comments below and I will do my best to respond. Each comment will start a conversation and dialogue that may enhance our learning experience.

For more information about Experiential Learning, we can read from John Dewey – Founder of Progressive Learning – “The Experience of Education“. (If the book is too long, please see Summary.)

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