What Is Experiential Learning?In experiential learning participants are engaged in direct experience and focused reflection in order to increase knowledge, develop skills, and clarify values.
Process OrientationThe focus of EL is placed on the process of learning and not the product of learning. This is important in the sense that while the outcome of a learning process is relevant for only a limited period of time, the actual process, if acquired, can be employed on a long term basis and independently from any educator.
(UC Davis, 2011)
The Importance of ExperienceThe basic principle of experiential learning is that experience plays a crucial part in learning. Yet, experience in itself does not lead to learning. To obtain active knowledge, three things have to be present:
- Concrete experience – actively participate in a task
- Reflective observation – talk about your experience, share your reactions and observations and discuss feelings generated by the experience
- Application - apply what you learned in the experience to a similar or different situation in a relevant context
What Are The Benefits?If you aspire to gain knowledge that you can integrate into your existing practice, employ in new situations, and understand enough to pass on to others effortlessly, then experiential learning is the most effective method to use. It is exceptionally well-suited for skills development, attitude shift and clarifying values.
The steps of experiential learning:1. Experience
Perform carefully selected activities that are in line with previously specified goals of the training. All steps are controlled by the group. After the initial instructions, there is little or no help from the facilitator. Features and experiences vary greatly and may include traditional training activities, outdoor experiences and other challenges lifted from a different context. Their common feature is that all exercises are group activities, require full presence from the participants and help them to step out of their comfort zones.
Participants share their experiences within the group. Time and space is provided to discuss reactions and emotions experienced during the activity. The facilitator encourages group members to share their observations about each other. Participants analyse what has happened during the exercise and reflect on the situations created by the activity and how these were resolved both at individual and group level. Examples of sharing questions or prompts:
-How did you feel during the experience?
-What was your role?
-What were the others’ reactions?
-How successful was the experience? Why? If not, why not? What would you do differently if you had a second chance?
-Who took on leadership?
“What are my conclusions?”
Participants connect the experience with relevant past experiences. They find general trends between the diagnosis made during the earlier phases of reflection, and personal behavioural patterns. Discover key terms and concepts that capture the learning in a given situation or skill.
“Now what is the next step?”
Apply what was learnt during the experience (or in previous experiences) to a similar or a different situation. Discuss how learning can be applied to other situations either at a personal or a professional level. Discuss how more effective behaviours can develop from the new learning. Set such concrete, viable and relevant actions, and a deadline, to participants that they feel they can commit themselves to them. In the next phase, which is application, participants may test their new skills straight away, and will receive immediate feedback from the facilitator and other group members. This positive confirmation provides motivation to test the new mindset or attitude in further different contexts.
This four-step cycle is repeated in each experiential exercise.