What is Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning theory is based on the works of the prodominant scientists of the 20th century, such as Dewey who uses experience as base of learning, Lewin who emphasizes the importance of individual effectiveness in the learning process, and Piaget who does not see intelligence only as an innate trait but qualifies it as an end result of the interaction between people and the environment.

Experiential Learning is a holistic approach which covers all four (feeling, reflecting, thinking, acting) dimensions of learning.

David A. KOLB, founder of experiential learning theory, defines learning as a process in which “experience is transformed into knowledge”.

Experiential Learning Cycle

Experiential Learning Theory is a dynamic view of learning based on a learning cycle driven by the resolution of the dual dialectics of action/reflection and experience/abstraction. Learning is defined as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.” . Grasping experience refers to the process of taking in information, and transforming experience is how individuals interpret and act on that information.

The Experiential Learning Theory Model portrays two dialectically related modes of grasping experience:

Concrete Experience and Abstract Conceptualization

Two dialectically related modes of transforming experience:

Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation

Learning arises from the resolution of creative tension among these four learning modes. This process is portrayed as an idealized learning cycle where the learner “touches all the bases”—experiencing, reflecting, thinking, and acting—in a recursive process that is sensitive to the learning situation and what is being learned. Immediate or concrete experiences are the basis for observations and reflections. These reflections are assimilated and distilled into abstract concepts from which new implications for action can be drawn. These implications can be actively tested and serve as guides in creating new experiences.

Experiential Learning Theory

David Kolb and Alice Kolb built the experiential learning theory on the valuable work of the following scientists.

  • William James
  • Kurt Lewin
  • Carl Rogers
  • Carl Jung
  • John Dewey
  • Jean Piaget
  • Lev Vygotsky
  • Paulo Freire
  • Mary Parker Follett

6 Propositions of the Experiential Learning theory

  1. Learning is best conceived as a process, not in terms of outcomes. Although punctuated by knowledge milestones, learning does not end at an outcome, nor is it always evidenced in performance. Rather, learning occurs through the course of connected experiences in which knowledge is modified and re-formed. To improve learning in higher education, the primary focus should be on engaging students in a process that best enhances their learning – a process that includes feedback on the effectiveness of their learning efforts. “…education must be conceived as a continuing reconstruction of experience: … the process and goal of education are one and the same thing.”
  2. All learning is re-learning. Learning is best facilitated by a process that draws out the students’ beliefs and ideas about a topic so that they can be examined, tested and integrated with new, more refined ideas. Piaget called this proposition constructivism—individuals construct their knowledge of the world based on their experience and learn from experiences that lead them to realize how new information conflicts with their prior experience and belief.
  3. Learning requires the resolution of conflicts between dialectically opposed modes of adaptation to the world. Conflict, differences, and disagreement are what drive the learning process. These tensions are resolved in iterations of movement back and forth between opposing modes of reflection and action and feeling and thinking.
  4. Learning is a holistic process of adaptation to the world. Learning is not just the result of cognition but involves the integrated functioning of the total person— thinking, feeling, perceiving and behaving. It encompasses other specialized models of adaptation from the scientific method to problem solving, decision making and creativity.
  5. Learning results from synergetic transactions between the person and the environment. In Piaget’s terms, learning occurs through equilibration of the dialectic processes of assimilating new experiences into existing concepts and accommodating existing concepts to new experience. Following Lewin’s famous formula that behaviour is a function of the person and the environment, ELT holds that learning is influenced by characteristics of the learner and the learning space.
  6. Learning is the process of creating knowledge. In ELT, knowledge is viewed as the transaction between two forms of knowledge: social knowledge, which is co-constructed in a socio-historical context, and personal knowledge, the subjective experience of the learner. This conceptualization of knowledge stands in contrast to that of the “transmission” model of education in which pre-existing, fixed ideas are transmitted to the learner.

Alice Y. KOLB

Alice Kolb is the President of Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS) a research and development organization devoted to research and application of experiential learning in organizations worldwide. EBLS has developed many experiential exercises and self-assessment instruments including the latest Kolb Learning Style Inventory 4.0. The EBLS program of research on Experiential Learning Theory continues in collaboration with an international network of researchers, practitioners and learning partners.

As President of EBLS she facilitates research and practice initiatives of the international network. She was a co-developer of the Kolb Learning Style Inventory 4.0 and was the leader of the team that developed the Kolb Educator Role Profile, an inventory designed to help educators apply experiential learning principles in their work.

She was born and raised in Brazil and went to Japan where she received her BA in Japanese Studies from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, and MA and Doctorate in Human Resources Management from Hitotsubashi University. She received a MS in Human Resource Management from Cleveland State University and her Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Organizational Behavior where she was an Adjunct Professor in the Weatherhead School of Management. She is fluent in Portuguese, Spanish, Japanese and English.

Her research focus on creating learning spaces conducive to deep learning led to her paper “Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education” published in Academy of Management Learning and Education and “Learning to play, playing to learn: A case study of a ludic learning space,” published in the Journal of Organizational Change Management. She recently published a book titled Becoming an Experiential Educator: Principles and Practices of Experiential Learning with David Kolb. She and David received the 2008 “Educational Pioneers of the Year Award” from the National Society for Experiential Education.

David A. KOLB

David A. Kolb is the Chairman of Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS), an organization that he founded in 1981 to advance research and practice on experiential learning. EBLS has developed many experiential exercises and self-assessment instruments including the latest Kolb Learning Style Inventory 4.0 and the Kolb Educator Role Profile, an inventory designed to help educators apply experiential learning principles in their work. The EBLS program of research on Experiential Learning Theory continues with an international network of researchers, practitioners and learning partners.

He received his BA in psychology, philosophy and religion at Knox College and his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Harvard University. He was a professor of organizational behavior and management at the MIT Sloan School of Management and at the Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University where he is currently Emeritus Professor of Organizational Behavior.

He is best known for his research on experiential learning and learning styles described in the new Second Edition of Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. Other books include—The Experiential Educator: Principles and Practices of Experiential Learning, How You Learn Is How You Live: Using Nine Ways of Learning to Transform Your Life, Conversational Learning: An Experiential Approach to Knowledge Creation, Innovation in Professional Education: Steps on a Journey from Teaching to Learning, and Organizational Behavior: An Experiential Approach. In addition he has authored many journal articles and book chapters on experiential learning available at www.learningfromexperience.com David has received several research awards and four honorary degrees recognizing his contributions to experiential learning in higher education.

Reference: https://learningfromexperience.com

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  1. By understanding these propositions, we can create more effective and engaging learning experiences that enable learners to develop knowledge that is co-constructed within a socio-historical context, rather than simply transmitted to them.