Experiential Learning Theory
There are various innovative methods of learning today. The conventional method of learning for students was textbook learning and taking examinations to measure their understanding of the students by a ranking or grading system. The world has evolved and so have the teaching and learning methodologies, many believe that learning now is more accurate and effective when students learn while interacting with the environment and gaining exposure to the world. This theory was first brought to the light of the world by David A. Kolb in 1984, when he developed and published a learning theory that is today known as “Experiential Learning Theory” (ELT). The theory explains how Students learn through exposure and interaction with the environment. This method has been widely accepted and is practiced in almost all parts of the world. Where the traditional method of learning still exists and is a pre-dominating style of learning globally, Experiential Learning has brought the missing touch of the reality of the world to the traditional learning system. David Kolb’s theory works on two levels:
- Four stages of the Learning Cycle and
- Four Learning Styles.
Four Stages of Learning Cycle:
While learning any topic, there are four different stages involved to complete the process.
Concrete Learning – The first stage of the Experiential learning cycle, Concrete learning, starts when the students encounter the experience for the first time or re-interpret an experience that they had previously. The students learn a lot through textbooks, it’s a never-ending source of knowledge as they say, but the experience gained from the encounter with the real environment helps them interpret the knowledge gained from the book with respect to the reality of their surroundings.
Reflective Observation – When students start to reflect on the experience personally, the next stage of the learning cycle, Reflective Observation starts. This is the stage where the students have gained knowledge from the exposure and begin to relate to that knowledge with their experience.
Abstract Conceptualisation – Once the students have related to the experience, the next stage of learning starts where they start formulating innovative ideas and providing their insights and modifications to the situation.
Active Experimentation – After experiencing the concept, reflecting on it personally, and generating ideas based on the reflection, the next stage is the implementation of the ideas to get the desired outcome from the experience or modify the experience.
The best example of the Experiential Learning Cycle can be On-the-Job training, where a new hire, joining a new organization has conventional knowledge but no practical experience or exposure to the Job. The first task given to the person helps them understand the difference between textbook knowledge and the Job requirement. They understand the difference, reflect on their next steps to approach it, and then create a plan to handle the requirement in the best possible way to get the desired outcome and add innovative ideas from their learning to create a better way to get the desired outcome effectively and efficiently.
Kolb’s Four Learning Styles:
David Kolb explained the learning style in two different dimensions – the understanding of information and the processing of information. The understanding of the information or perceived information is further classified as Concrete Experience or Abstract Conceptualisation. Similarly, the processed information is classified as active experimentation or reflective observation. Every student has a different style of learning some learn visually, and some learn by practically performing the tasks. To make it easier to understand, David Kolb categories the learning styles into four different styles:
Diverging – Individuals who have diverging styles of learning learn visually, they are creative and look at things from a different perspective. They learn by watching and have a strong imaginative capacity. They are emotional and do well in the arts. People with diverging learning styles prefer to learn and work in groups, are open to feedback, and are interested in people and their culture.
Assimilating – People with an assimilating style of learning prefer clear information, they are logical and can use their skills to format the given information to explore them analytically. They are more analytical and are interested in concepts and data more than people.
Converging – Individuals with a converging style like to solve problems by applying their learning to practical use in the issues. They prefer technical jobs and prefer to experiment with new ideas. They are mostly unemotional.
Accommodating – Individuals that have an accommodating learning style like to learn by doing things practically. They are intuitive and prefer to tackle challenging situations.
Experiential Learning Cycle has made the lives of the students and teachers a lot easier today. Where authentic knowledge still holds great importance, most people find it helpful when they learn from exposure and the Experiential learning theory brings light and direction to this new methodology. The method has a lot of benefits for students, the teachers can develop more accurate plans for students learning when they know the learning style of the students hence creating a greater learning impact on the target student group. Teachers design activities that will provide opportunities to students based on their learning styles, we all learn better when we enjoy the process. The awareness of the different types of learning styles and cycles makes it easier to consciously ensure that the individuals go through all four stages of the learning cycle to ensure complete exposure and learning for them.
Students find it helpful as well, when they get the opportunity to learn in their style, they enjoy the process, and they tend to interact more with the environment, hence getting an overall learning experience. This in turn helps them to think innovatively and generate bright ideas. The targeted activities help them to focus and interact with their environment to get the desired outcomes.
The Learning cycles help the teachers understand what extra input is required for an individual to help in their learning process. An individual’s learning style along with their learning stages helps the teachers plan their learning process in a more efficient and effective way to help them.