Monday, April 09, 2012

The Experiential Learning Cycle

Experiential learning occurs when a person engages in some activity, looks back at the activity critically, abstracts some useful insight from the analysis, and puts the result to work through a change in behavior. Of course, this process is experienced spontaneously in everyone's ordinary life. People never stop learning; with each new experience, we consciously or unconsciously ask ourselves questions such as, _How did that feel?,_ _What really happened?,_ or _What do I need to remember about that?_ It is an inductive process: proceeding from observation rather than from a priori _truth_ (as in the deductive process).
Learning can be defined as a change in behavior as a result of experience or input, and that is the usual purpose of training. The effectiveness of experiential learning is based on the fact that nothing is more relevant to us than ourselves. One's own reactions to, observations about, and understanding of something are more important than someone else's opinion about it. Research has shown that people learn best by _doing._ One remembers best what one knows better than one remembers what one knows about.

The data-generating part of the experience develops a common base for the discussion that follows. Goals include:
• To Explore_
• To Examine_
• To Study_
• To Identify_

The question in this stage is _What happened to me?_ Participants share personal data about what they saw and/or how they felt during the experience.
• Feelings
• Reactions
• Observations

The question here is _What happened in general?_ Participants systematically examine their commonly shared experience.
• Common themes
• Patterns
• Interactions
• Group dynamics
• Behavioral trends

The question now is _So what?_ From the patterns identified, participants abstract:
• Inferences
• Generalizations
• Learnings
• Principles
• What tends to happen_
These are stated in terms of the _real world_ rather than the learning situation.

The final question is _Now what?_ Generalizations and learnings are applied to real-life situations, and change is planned. This stage can include:
• Consulting groups
• Goal setting
• Practice sessions
• Contracting for change
The application of learning is a new experience. The cycle begins again_

Learning experiences that utilize the experiential learning model allow participants to confront basic psychological and behavioral issues that they have to deal with in their daily lives. The model gives participants an opportunity to examine their feelings and behaviors related to interactions with other individuals. Examining their feelings and other reactions to situations helps to expand the participants' awareness and understanding of the function their emotions play in their behavior. Not only does this add to the interest and involvement of the participants, it also contributes significantly to the transfer of learning. No other type of learning generates this personal involvement and depth of understanding. The ultimate result is that participants accept responsibility for their own learning and behavior, rather than assigning that responsibility to someone else.

Adapted From:
Pfeiffer, J.W., & Ballew, A.C. (1988). Using structured experiences in human resource development (UATT Series, Vol. 1). San Diego, CA:, University Associates.

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