Experiential Learning

I’ve read a lot of travel books, but it’s only when you feel the sharp pain in your heel and see the blood when you peel your socks off that you know what blisters feel like. I was a passenger for a long time, but can clearly remember the first time i drove alone. This year in Malaysia we sat in a street market, speaking in faltering English and Malay to try a durian fruit, the notoriously foul smelling, sweet tasting asian treat. It was only when i ate it that i truly understood. I can still smell and taste it now if i think about it.

Experiential Learning

Social learning approaches allow us to move beyond the classroom to provide truly experiential learning

Experience is different from theory: we can gain conceptual understanding from books, from roleplays, workshops and simulations, but it’s only when we experience something directly, when we face and solve the challenges ourselves, when we make our mistakes, that we can truly learn from it.

Formal learning is inevitably and inherently abstract: distanced from reality. That’s not a bad thing, the theory and concepts are important, but until we can support learners through experience, it’s hard to truly master something.

Social Learning is one approach that lets us bridge the gap between that formal learning, the abstract theory, and our everyday reality. It’s a way of maintaining a learning mindset whilst being out of the classroom and doing our actual job.

It does this by surrounding the formal learning with layers of semi formal conversation that take place, that are grounded, in the real world, rather than the classroom. Whilst formal training is always inside, looking out at the real world, social learning is in the real word, referencing back to the formal. It’s more grounded and gritty.

Technology helps to facilitate this: mobile learning is used to draw formal learning elements out into the real world, to provide performance support where it’s really needed.

Experiential learning is not about throwing people to the wolves, but it does involve making mistakes and handling those mistakes and feedback appropriately, and it’s something that we have to factor in at the learning design stage: where are we teaching, where are we playing with the learning, where is the space for mistakes and what support is thrown around this?

Contextual feedback is important in experiential learning spaces: feedback to an individual based on personal performance. Effective experiential learning activities therefore may come with a higher cost of coaching and observation attached, but concurrently high rewards in terms of enhanced performance and confidence (plus letting people make their mistakes in a supportive and permissive environment instead of an unsupported and unsafe one).

We see in museums and zoos where people have the chance to pet the animals or handle the artefacts it adds a new dimension to the experience. Indeed, ‘experience‘ is the right word for experiential learning. For behavioural development, from leadership to sales skills or executive coaching, we have to create spaces for experience and surround them with context and support.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Adventure, Expedition, Experience, Learning and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to Experiential Learning

  1. Você trata neste texto do que chamamos em nosso vocabulário: “LEITURA DA VIDA À PARTIR DE EXPERIÊNCIAS VIVIDAS”. É importante e enriquecedor! abs.

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  5. Great post! I like the description of the space between academic and experience, but calling it social seems a bit limited, as is the focus on technology. Why not consider it mentored learning or apprentisship? And then show how technology helps the neophyte reach to a myriad of experts and context sensitive training in what is currently the ultimate just-in-time training experience. A crowd-sourced mentorship.

    Someday instead of executing a “pull” for help, things like google glasses may shift this to “push” based on location and image recognition technologies. Providing a help or more info selection to scenes in real life.

    Your observation about this is incredibly insightful. To paraphrase Motzart, it is in the space between education and execution that continuous learning happens.

    • julianstodd says:

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts and feedback Loretta 🙂 You’re right that i’ve limited the discussion a little for the sake of telling the story i wanted to tell – that’s the great thing about these social collaborative spaces, you can bring your thoughts in and broaden the story too. I’ll think more about that feedback and perhaps try to incorporate your ideas in the next iteration.

      Thanks for stopping by! Best wishes, Julian

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