Exploring experiential learning

By Dr. Samina Riaz
Fri, 03, 18


Classroom teaching is not only about the dissemination of knowledge; it enables students to learn effectively and helps them shape their futures. In general, students cram plenty of textbook content before any big assessment and put all their efforts in achieving a good grade.

As goes the Chinese proverb, “Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand” (Confucius, 450 BC), there are a number of models developed by scientists and psychologists to understand different ways through which people can learn best. A popular theory - known as the VARK model - considers four types of primary learners: visual, auditory, reading/writing and kinesthetic (Fleming & Mills, 1992; Chelsi Nakano, 2016). It has been found that a lack of adequate understanding in terms of materials and concepts typically exists even among students who are well-trained, and achieve better grades and test scores, receive accolades from teachers, demonstrate good attendance, and exhibit all overt signs of success.

In order to make learning more innovative, there is a need to direct students towards experiential learning. Experiential learning implies that students learn from their experiences or by doing certain things. This method focuses on a hand-on way of learning followed by reflecting on the results. According to J.W. Wilson, author of Cracking the Learning Code, “Experience automatically stimulates approximately 95 percent of all neurons that provide the massive neural firing that is the basis for all long-term memory.” Generally, verbal presentation is only able to fire five to twenty percent of neurons. Simply experiential learning was initially all about the “Do and Review” rule, however, the following experiential learning cycle models evolved over the passage of time:

1-stage model

The first model, (experience), implies that for learning, experience alone is enough (James, 1980/2000; Bacon, 1987; Neill, 2002).

2-stage model

Gaining experiences and reflecting on those experiences is an effective method to structure and facilitate experiential education (James, 1980/2000; Bacon, 1987; Neill, 2002).

3-stage model

The easiest is experience-reflection-plan, according to which experiences followed by reflection help pupil develop a plan for future experience (Greenaway, 2002).

4-stage model

Experience-reflection-abstraction-experimentation. According to this model, participants have a Concrete Experience, followed by Reflective Observation, then the formation of Abstract Conceptualizations before finally conducting Active Experimentation to test out the newly developed principles (Kolb, 1984; Smith, 2001; Greenaway, 2002). For an expansion of Kolb’s 4-stage model, see Willis & Ricketts, 2004.

5-stage model

Experiencing-publishing-processing-generalizing-applying (Greenaway, 2002; Priest & Gass, 1997, Pfeiffer & Jones, 1975)

6-stage model

“The Experiential Learning and Judgment Paradigm”, consisting of: experience-induce-generalize-deduce-apply-evaluate (Priest, 1990; Priest & Gass, 1997).­

It can be said that most elementary method to transform a group of learners in a powerful way is by introducing active learning strategies. By using these strategies, students in the classroom are made to work with course materials individually or in groups. As against open class discussions, active learning strategies are structured, timed, and created to give students the opportunity to learn by focusing on specific content in a particular way. Students have the tendency to grasp different concepts and materials better when they are actively engaged in them, rather than absorbing it passively. The best way to do it is to set goals for an activity, decide what the teacher wants the students to learn or do at the end of the course and structure the activity accordingly to realize the goals. Experiential learning can be achieved through various types of activities, including group-based activities, where students can mix things up. Such activities are liked by students in general, given that the teacher explains the task clearly and take safeguards against freeloaders and slackers.

To make collaborative learning effective, there are basic principles to follow. If teachers are using groups for short-term activities (one task at a time) they must follow the principles of active learning. However, if the teacher intends to make students work in groups over a longer period of time (weeks) to accomplish certain tasks, then negativity and competition have to be eliminated from the group. It should be replaced with relationship building, helpfulness and respect so that students evenly distribute the task and ascertain that everyone in the group assumes responsibilities and work towards the successful completion of the task. Moreover, the teacher needs to ensure that group interaction between the members is as smooth as possible and this is done through the provision of clearly-defined goals along with frequent feedback.

Case studies having uncertain solutions are designed so that the multi-faceted and poorly structured problems, those students will come across later in life or during their jobs, could be replicated. It is more popular in advanced courses where application of whatever has been learned is the foremost goal. However, it is useful in even basic classes because students are able to learn facts in a certain context and are therefore able to grasp them more intensely. Additionally, adequate communications and reasoning skills in social situations are taught to students who use the problem-based learning strategy.

Students can also learn through different projects and class assignments related to community-based initiatives. Field trips are also useful in exploring a particular subject. Similarly, undergoing mock stock market trading - a process that gives investors and traders the knowledge they need to avoid mistakes and make successful transactions during a “real” trading session - can help students interested in financial markets understand the functioning of stock-related transactions and trades.

Experiential learning assists students in questioning things rather than simply finding answers to different questions. In summation, experiential learning has a lot of potential for educational innovation because through this type of learning, students are able to combine classroom studies with their experiences and this, in turn, makes them more successful in their careers in the long run.

The generation of new ideas, taking risks, and coming up with new methods to resolve problems are related to student engagement in several areas. Through understanding, every concept or subject can become easier. Therefore, in my opinion, the best strategy is to inculcate different concepts in such a way that it becomes a part of a student’s life-time memory. The belief in motivating students to do their best work, setting higher expectations, and extending support to students so that they can meet those expectations are keys to make education more effective and fruitful. When students are assigned different challenges, and are provided with the required support, their motivations to show their maximum potential is enhanced.

Learning environments and mode of instruction also make a big difference when it comes to students’ perceptions related to course-related challenges. Courses must be designed to develop skills that could be helpful for students in their future careers. Communications skills, group work, presentation skills, analytical, research, and independent learning skills, project management, and computer skills must be included in courses so that students can make the most out of their education.