“The only source of knowledge is experience.” -Albert Einstein
Prior to joining the ULEAD team, I spent nearly a decade serving as an administrator for an experiential learning program at a small private university. While my title changed several times during that period, I can recount more than one occasion that I was introduced by colleagues as “the guy in charge of experimental learning”. The easy mistake of misinterpreting “experiential learning” as “experimental” I found to be relatively common and grew to understand the ambiguity the term can have for so many. If I may, my hope is to shed a little light on the world of experiential learning and the important role this philosophy plays in our learning process.
Since the beginning of human existence, we have been learning through experiences. Think back for a moment, to a powerful lesson you have learned. There is a good chance you also have strong memory of an associated experience, maybe even a good story. To offer an official definition, the Association for Experiential Educators describes experiential learning simply as “Challenge and experience followed by reflection leading to learning and growth”. Is it really that simple, you may think? Well yes and no.
The philosophy of experiential learning has been developed and expounded upon by many great thinkers since the late 1800s. Opinions may vary as to whom to grant origination of the philosophy to, but some of the well-known figures include American Philosopher John Dewey (recognized as the modern father of experiential education), German educator Kurt Hahn (father of Outward Bound), and American educational theorist David Kolb (creator of the experiential learning cycle). Kolb’s experiential learning cycle is used by many educators today as a template for the practical integration of learning through experiences. Kolb presents learning as a continuous cycle of four stages: experience, followed by reflection, followed by conceptualization, followed by testing and then back to the experience phase. Author and experiential educator Dr. Greg Robinson describes experiences as containers, “a defined place, time frame, or process that is set aside to learn and discover new ideas, skills, and attitudes.” In essence experiential learning is a hands-on collaborative process in which the transfer of learning moves from the experience to conceptualization and then to application.
What are the benefits of engaging in learning through experience? Research shows a great number of benefits for students engaged in the experiential learning process. Here are just a few of those benefits:
• Increase in student’s content knowledge and skills
• Significant increases in student’s critical thinking abilities
• Higher application rate of learning outcomes to everyday life
• Increases student’s self esteem
• Enhances student’s sense of self-efficacy and empowerment
• Positive effect on student’s motivation for learning
Here at ULEAD we have the privilege of co-creating these learning experiences with organizations and individuals across the state of Indiana and beyond. Whether the experience be a session on a high ropes course or a highly creative teambuilding training, these containers for learning are impactful in the transfer of learning to inspire creativity, discover new horizons, and grow lasting relationships. Whether it be on your own or through a ULEAD training, I hope that you will be inspired to see your own experiences as a chance for new growth and discovery.
Tyler Huston – Program Architect at ULEAD