Experiential learning is the process of imparting education in a real-world situation. The purpose is to acquire a hands-on approach and knowledge.
This learning can be in the form of internships, apprenticeships, certificate and diploma programs, and more.
Kolb’s experiential learning cycle
Professor D.A. Kolb propagated the theory of experiential learning. He said: “knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.”
His research says that mastering expertise is a continuous process of experience, reflection, conceptualisation and experimentation. These elements make up Kolb’s experiential learning cycle which shows the relationship between each phase.
In experiential learning, students learn by doing rather than in just abstract theory. Hence, an experiment in a chemistry lab or a physics lab can easily translate the theory part into real terms, and students can touch, feel and see the actual ingredients, reactions, and formations.
An electrician or HVAC technician needs real-life applications if they want to polish their skills and acquire the essential knowledge. For them, sitting in a lecture hall and listening to theories is not sufficient.
Experiential learning programs can be in the form of performing research under guidance, learning the craft under a mentor or craftsman or tradesman.
According to the Boston University Center for Teaching and Learning, experiential learning allows the students to learn and imbibe, that is analyze and synthesize, be able to decide on the outcomes independently, discuss and experiment, and learn from the practical lifelong learning process.
When we talk about experiential education, we’re most often referring to formal programs such as co-ops, apprenticeships, and internships.
Experiential learning methods can be acquired in an unstructured setting too. One can garner information by way of picking someone’s brains or shadowing an experienced professional for some length of time. Other than understanding a new subject or gaining a skill, we develop new habits and behaviours. Experience-based learning helps establish lasting behaviour change.
In fact, according to the 70 20 10 model, 70% of what we know comes from experience and trying new things. Yet, the real learning happens when we reflect on those experiences! Research confirms that quality reflection time helps one to learn new things.
The experiential learning cycle
It starts with stepping out of our comfort zone and going out there and picking up a new skill. It can be both in our personal and professional lives. It can be as simple as trying on a new hairstyle or picking another route to the office.
Through these experiences, we expand our horizons and get a sense of what might work or not for us.
The next step is to take a step back and reflect on the experiment’s relevance and success. What needs to be done or not done, or maybe improved? For example, a new hairstyle gave you confidence, or was it a hassle dealing with the compliments? The new route to the office was a change from the routine, took longer but was less crowded and made you less stressed.
This is a stage of analysis, observing alternatives and drawing up pros and cons.
The experiential learning continues once we plan ahead on the new experience and decide on how to utilize it further.
The last stage comes when we affect what we have conceptualized and planned based on previous experiments.
Besides internships, apprenticeships, fellowships, shadowing etc., there are some other ways and processes that one can gain experience:
- Practicums: A practicum is similar to an internship and offers hands-on experience in a given field. Practicums are common in teaching.
- Returnships: A returnship as the name suggests, is a way to get back to work after a long hiatus. It’s similar to an internship but geared toward workers who have completed their training and education.
- Volunteering: Volunteering may be part of an experiential learning program or an informal process. As a volunteer, you give your time and energy to a worthy cause. In exchange, you gain experience, perspective, and new relationships.