Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is “nature’s way of learning”. It is instruction that occurs when you directly participate in the events of life. Experiential learning is often contrasted with didactic learning, in which the instructor’s role is strictly to shovel information at the learner.

Think back on how you learned how to walk and talk. You did something, experienced the consequences, and choose to either continue, or try something new. What allows us to master new skills is getting involved in our own learning and then reflecting on how that went. Experience and reflection teaches us more than any manual or lecture ever could.

In the book Experiential Learning, David Kolb describes learning as a four-step process. He identified the steps as watching, thinking, feeling, and doing. Kolb drew primarily on the works of John Dewey (who emphasized the need for learning to be grounded in experience), Kurt Lewin (who stressed the importance of being active in our own learning), and Jean Piaget (who described intelligence as the result of our interaction our environment).

For instruction to be effective, we need to perceive information, reflect on how the information will influence some aspect of our life, compare how it fits into our own experiences, and then think about how this information offers new ways for us to act.

Most educators understand the important role experience plays in the learning process. A fun learning environment, with plenty of laughter and respect for our individual abilities, also fosters an effective experiential learning environment. In order for us to retain what we have learned, we need to be encouraged to get directly involved in our own education. According to the ancient Chinese philosopher, Confucius, “tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.”

We are effective experiential facilitators when we are passionate about our work and are able to totally immerse participants in the learning experience, allowing them to gain new knowledge from their peers and their environment. As facilitators, our job is to stimulate their imagination and keep participants hooked on the experience.

“Effective Learning is something to be experienced, not taught.”