Understanding Experiential Learning

Understanding Experiential Learning

What comes to your mind when you hear the phrase “experiential learning?” Do you think that you can undergo learning outside the confines of a classroom? What is the best form of learning? Have you ever wondered how you learned to ride a bicycle for example? The saying “experience is the best teacher” can be used or employed to illustrate and describe the process of experiential learning. Also, there are certain things you can learn or figure out from your experiences; this is what experiential learning entails. Arguably, experiential learning is the easiest and fastest way of learning.


Meaning and Scope of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience as well as reflection on doing things. Also, experiential learning is different from role or didactic learning in which the learner plays a comparatively passive role. Experiential learning is often used synonymously and in tandem with experiential education; but while experiential education is a broader philosophy of education, experiential learning considers the individual learning process. In addition, experiential learning is concerned with more concrete issues related to the learner and the learning context compared to experiential education. When an individual learns by reflecting on what they did, experiential learning has taken place.

Importantly, by reflecting on the experiences and learning by doing, the experiential learning process enables students or learners to be fully engaged and participatory. Similarly, academic inquiry can be stimulated and enhanced by adequate supervision, proper planning, and constant assessment of an experiential learning program. Relatively, experiential learning helps to promote interdisciplinary learning, enhance civic engagement, boost career development, increase cultural awareness, improve leadership, and augment other professional and intellectual skills among learners.

Additionally, some analysts have described experiential learning to encompass a pedagogical process where facilitators or tutors encourage and make students learn through a cycle of direct reflection, analysis, experience, and experiment. A key aspect of experiential learning is that the process imbibes and enables learners to develop collaborative, communication, critical thinking, and creativity skills.


Qualities a Learner Must Have to Undergo Experiential Learning

Remember, teaching is of utmost importance to motivate people. Learning only has good effects when learners have the desire to absorb the knowledge. Hence, experiential learning requires the showing of directions for learners. Since the process entails a hands-on approach, learning moves away from the teacher just standing at the front of the room imparting and transferring knowledge to students. In this regard, learning becomes an experience that goes beyond a classroom setting and strives to bring more involvement. Thus, a learner must possess the following qualities to be able to learn experientially;

The student or learner must have the ability to reflect on the experience.

The learner must be able to have and use analytical skills to conceptualize the experience.

The learner or student must possess decision-making skills.

Also, the student must have problem-solving skills to put new ideas gained from the experience into practice.

Finally, the learner must be willing and able to be actively involved in the experience.


Elements, Features, and Characteristics of Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning

Significance: Significance can simply be defined as the quality of being worthy of attention and importance. Experiential learning is highly significant in the overall growth and development of the learner. By learning from experiences and reflection of doing things, the entire process brings meaning and relevance to the student and society as a whole.

Challenging: These days, individuals and learners are arguably seeking to go outside their comfort zones to learn. The process of experiential learning provides a good and excellent platform for learners to develop new experiences that encourage them to leave their comfort zones. It enables learners to challenge themselves, become creative, and think critically.

Supportive: A key component of experiential learning is that it emphasizes teamwork; learners can develop strong interpersonal skills which include healthy risk-taking, honesty, trust, and humility. Remember, teamwork is crucial not just in the learning process but in life in general.

Satisfying: Have you ever felt over the moon after getting a job done for example? How do you feel when your hard work is acknowledged? Experiential learning builds on successes to create greater successes. Also, this form of learning capitalizes on the inherent joy of learning while laughing or smiling.

Surprising: There is an element of surprise attached to experiential learning; the process invites the discovery of the unknown where one can engage in experiences that are both unique and relevant.

Engagement: Finally, the learner plays a key role in the learning process; the engagement is physical, emotional, social, and intellectual. This highlights and makes the learning task to be authentic.                       


Phases of the Experiential Learning Cycle

Research has shown that the experiential learning cycle has four main phases which include;

Concrete experience: This phase involves the learner relying more on feelings than on the systematic approach to problems and solutions.

Reflective observation:  This is the phase where individuals tend to be patient, objective, intuitive, and judge carefully without necessarily taking any action.

Abstract conceptualization: The abstract conceptualization phase involves the use of theories, logic, and ideas while learning instead of feelings to decipher situations or problems.

Active experimentation: In this phase, the learner takes a practical approach and is concerned with what works as opposed to simply watching a situation.


Benefits of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning relates mainly to the meaning-making process of the individual’s direct experience. Below are the benefits of experiential learning;

Experiential learning enables learners to experience the real world. For example, learners who major in Chemistry can have the opportunity to interact and relate with the chemical environment.

The process improves job performance. For instance, training commercial bus drivers through high-fidelity simulation training may lead to a significant decrease in accidents and fuel consumption.

Experiential learning provides an opportunity for creativity. Learners can absorb that lesson better when they get to interact with real-life experiences.


Application of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning can be applied during internships, service learning, cooperative education, clinical education, student teaching, practicum, undergraduate research experience, community-based research, and fieldwork amongst others.


Examples of Experiential Learning

An individual goes to the zoo and learns through observation and interaction with the zoo environment, as opposed to reading about animals from a book. Hence, the individual makes discoveries and experiment with first-hand knowledge rather than hearing or reading about others’ experiences.

The process of learning to ride a bicycle is another example of experiential learning. It is often understood that when someone learns how to ride a bicycle, the process of balancing and turning the pedals for long periods was aided by learning by experience. Every time the individual falls over, stumbled, or lost balance, they reflect on what happened and what not to do next time. The process of reflection repeated over and over will gradually help the individual to refine their riding skills until they finally got it.

A good example of experiential learning is a newly recruited caregiver who is job shadowing an experienced colleague. The new hire will learn from the experiences and reflections of shadowing the experienced caregiver.

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