Experiential Learning Theory
Alia is a post-production intern for a streaming platform. Her tasks include translating and transcribing foreign films to prepare them…
August 19, 2021 | 7 mins read
Alia is a post-production intern for a streaming platform. Her tasks include translating and transcribing foreign films to prepare them for local consumption. However, she translates a few scenes incorrectly and fails to notice her mistake until the film goes for final quality checks.
Her manager points out her mistake and helps her understand where she needs to improve. Alia reflects on her actions, reviewing where she went wrong. She assesses how she can do better and grow in her role. She then applies her learnings to her future projects.
Alia learned from experience, thanks to her willingness to reflect, ideate and plan how she could improve for her next project. This cycle of act, reflect, ideate and plan is known as the experiential learning cycle.
Read on to learn the meaning of experiential learning and how it impacts your work life.
David A. Kolb, an educational theorist and American psychologist, is renowned for his research on experiential learning. According to Kolb, learning happens because of our experiences. Understanding, decoding and learning from experience is a cycle that continues as you apply your findings to each experience.
There’s another aspect to experiential learning that stems from Kolb’s learning cycle. Not only do we learn from experience but also inexperience. When we encounter unfamiliar situations or instances, our curiosity pushes us to understand and think how to best tackle them. This helps us seek new knowledge in different ways.
For instance, just a few years ago we didn’t know anything about Twitter and how microblogging worked. Today, many of us are comfortable condensing our thoughts in 280 odd characters. Same with other social media platforms. We were introduced to a whole new world of images and videos. First, we studied what was easily accessible to us. Then, we learned how to express ourselves with our words, photography or video skills. A lot of people showcase their art and graphic design on social media. This is all a result of experiential learning.
Kolb’s Cycle is driven by self-motivation. You must have the desire to learn from your experience—or inexperience. This way you’ll be more willing to reflect and ideate to improve your future actions. Analysis and critical thinking help us gain knowledge that’s retained for a long time.
Let’s decode each step in the experiential learning cycle to understand how it works.
Think about a time you learned a new skill—maybe a new language. You probably took your time getting used to it. You may have made mistakes along the way. But what’s important is recognizing that there’s always room for error in the learning process. You can reflect on your mistakes and learn from them. These insights then help you improve the next time you learn something.
Kolb’s book Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development, defines learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”. What you experience, and the corresponding emotions, transforms into learning, adding to your knowledge.
Here are Kolb’s four stages of experiential learning:
Concrete experience refers to what you encounter or come across. It may be a new or recurrent experience that you learn from. For example, if you’re a student, you may be attending a new class or studying a new subject in college. You try to understand what the subject matter is, what the purpose is and how the assessments work. This adds to your concrete experience. You participate in class, take a test or submit an assignment. Getting good or bad grades forms part of your concrete experience.
Reflective observation is the next step in the learning cycle. If there are any inconsistencies or gaps in your experience and understanding of the outcome, you reflect on your learning. For instance, in the same example, say you got a bad grade in the new subject you encountered. You probably take time to reflect on why that happened. Maybe you didn’t study enough or you didn’t understand the assignment properly. You may even reach out to your teacher or classmates for help. Reflecting on missteps brings you closer to absolute learning and knowledge-building.
The third step in the learning process is abstract conceptualization. This is when you learn from your experience and ideate next steps. You’ve acquired knowledge, bridged the gap between experience and understanding and now you’re ready to think about results. This is the stage where you come up with new ideas to learn from your experience. If you failed the first time, you’ll use this opportunity to identify what went wrong and how you can improve. You may come up with an actionable plan in collaboration with your mentors or teachers. You’ve learned from your experience so you don’t make the same mistakes twice.
The final stage in the experiential learning process is active experimentation. When you’ve learned from your experience and ideated what you should be doing instead, it’s time to apply those insights. You experiment with your newfound knowledge and use it in your new experiences. This is also where you finally step into the first stage—concrete experience—again. Active experimentation is also driven by curiosity to see what happens when you finally apply what you’ve learned. You get a sense of accomplishment from your effort and the learning cycle. Each of us learns in the same way and applies our findings to improve every day.
The examples of experiential learning comprise classroom learning, skill-based learning or general life lessons. Social experiences such as making friends, losing them and reconnecting with them is also part of experiential learning. In a professional context, problem solving and creative thinking also come from experiential learning.
When you’re working in a team, you realize others have different perspectives based on their experiences. You start with learning from your experience and improving as a result. But when you encounter other people, you can learn from their experiences as well. For instance, your manager may have worked abroad. If you’re someone who’s never stepped out of the country, you’ll likely find their perspective unique and new. They may come from a different workplace culture than you’re used to. You’ll get to experience a novel way of working, thinking and doing business.
What you can learn from your manager is honest communication, being friendly regardless of rank and being open to new ideas.
Both in your personal and professional life, you’ll meet people who’ve come from different backgrounds. You have something to learn from every person. Similarly, you’ll have different experiences during the course of your life, such as:
There’s so much we do on a daily basis. Even sending an email may be a new experience for many. Most often, we learn skills such as how to communicate professionally, how to give a presentation or how to write a report on the job. There’s no limit to what you can experience. Even conflict with someone and the effort to resolve it can add to your knowledge.
No matter where you are in life, personally or professionally, every decision you make is the culmination of a series of choices and experiences. What’s important is to keep learning and growing. Every person learns from experience or inexperience. Never shy away from untested waters. You’ll likely find something worthwhile there, too. Acquiring new knowledge helps you advance in your career with diverse roles becoming the norm. Developing out-of-the-box thinking will help you stand out.
At a time when digital transformations have overtaken our professional and personal lives, what’s better than becoming an agile learner? Harappa’s Learning Expertly course will teach you how to learn, unlearn and relearn. Develop a growth mindset and become a learner of the future. There’s no limit to what you can do if you just push yourself in the right direction. With frameworks like Kolb’s Cycle and Gibbs’ Reflective Cycle, you’ll learn how to decode and understand your experiences. Approach problems from different angles, gain new perspectives and try new things. The world is your oyster and if you only look in the right place, you’ll find there’s so much you can experience. Enroll today and become a self-motivated learner!
Explore Harappa Diaries to learn more about topics such as Learning From Experience, Adult Learning Theory, Collaborative Learning and Constructivist Learning Theory to upgrade your knowledge and skills.