Article summary:
  • Experiential Learning uses real life experience and reflection to enhance learning.
  • The Experiential Learning cycle consists of the following stages: Experience ⇔ Awareness ⇔ Reflection ⇔ Theory ⇔ Action ⇔ Experience.
  • By applying these stages, teams and individuals can learn to enhance performance.
Apply your learnings from this article to:
  • make team meetings more productive.
  • debrief projects or clients.
  • make relationships with other team members more productive.

What is Experiential Learning?

Conner writes that “we take in information through our senses, yet we ultimately learn by doing. First, we watch and listen to others. Then we try doing things on our own. This sparks our interest and generates our motivation to self-discover … Think back on learning to ride a bicycle, use a computer, dance or sing. We undertook an action, saw the consequences of that action and chose either to continue or to take a new and different action. What allowed us to master the new skill was our active participation in the event and our reflection on what we attained. Experience and reflection taught more than any manual or lecture ever could.”

Greenaway encapsulates this statement when he says “experiential learning utilises participants’ own experience and their own reflection about that experience, rather than lecture and theory as the means of generating understanding and transferring skills and knowledge”.

Conner goes on to say that “when we practice a skill, analyse our practice and then repeat the practice at a higher level, we move practice to praxis.” In practical terms, then, reflection on our experience informs improvement in our learning and actions and enables us to perform at a higher level.

This is the exact process we call Experiential Learning.

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The Experiential Learning Cycle.

An overview of the experiential learning cycle is shown in the following sequence:

Experience ⇔ Awareness ⇔ Reflection ⇔ Theory ⇔ Action ⇔ Experience

Use Experiential Learning to increase performance.

People often think Experiential Learning only relates to team building and leadership programs. While both of these types of programs often feature experiential learning with great success, you can actually apply experiential learning to almost any situation in work or life!

David Kolb’s experiential learning model can help us learn from our experiences. There are four primary steps:

  • Step 1: Describe the experience
  • Step 2: Reflect on the experience
  • Step 3: Relate concepts/theory to the experience
  • Step 4: Develop resolutions for action resulting from the experience

Further details on the four steps are given below.

STEP 1: Concrete experience – Describe the experience
  1. Objectively describe the experience. That is, describe the “who”, “what”, “when”, “where”, “how” elements of the experience.

    Ask your self: What did I see? What did I hear?
  2. Subjectively describe the feelings, perceptions and thoughts that occurred during, not after, the experience.

    Ask your self: What did I feel? What did I think? How did it seem to me?
STEP 2: Reflective observation
  1. Look at the experience from different points or view.
  2. Use these perspectives to add more meaning to the incident.

    Ask yourself: How could others perceive this situation? What was helping and hindering progress? What do my observations mean? What sense or meaning can I make of my experience?
STEP 3: Abstract conceptualisation
  1. Relate concepts to the experience.

    Ask yourself: How do the theories I have read apply to this situation? How do they help me understand what is happening?
  2. Create your own original models and theories.

    Ask yourself: What are my theories about the situation? Why did these things happen?
STEP 4: Active experimentation (Applying & testing your learnings)
  1. Write about what you will do that will improve your effectiveness in that situation in the future. Develop resolutions for action. What will others be able to see and hear you do differently that will enhance your effectiveness on-the-job?
  2. Describe these developments specifically, thoroughly and in detail.

    Ask yourself: What will I do differently? How can I behave more effectively? What will others see or hear me doing in the future?

References

Batros, J G, Making common sense and meaning of what we See, Hear and Feel using David A Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle, 2007, Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship.

Conner, Marcia L, Learning from Experience, Ageless Learner, 1997-2007, viewed 2 July, 2009, http:/agelesslearner.com/intros/experiential.html

Greenaway, Roger, Experiential Learning Articles and Critiques of David Kolb’s Theory, viewed 2 July, 2009, http:/www.reviewing.co.uk/research/experiential.learning.htm#26

Kolb, D A, Osland, J & Rubin, I M 1995a, The Organizational Behavior Reader 6th edn, Prentice Hall: NJ.

Kolb, D A, Rubin, IM & Osland, J 1995b, Organizational Behavior – An Experiential Approach, 6th edn, Prentice Hall.

The HRD Group Ltd, Business, Management and Personal Skills Training for Corporate Clients, viewed 2 July, 2009, http:/www.teamskillstraining.co.uk