Experiential learning is exactly what the name implies – learning from experience. The experiential approach is learner-centered and allows the individual participants to manage and share responsibility for their learning with their trainer.
Recall and retention
To research the impact of the training
style on recall and retention, a group of people were divided randomly into
three subgroups each of which were taught something quite simple, the same
thing, using three different approaches. The results are shown in the table and
it shows how dramatically recall declines when people are only told something.
Told, shown, experienced
Recall after 3 weeks
Recall after 3 months
Kolb’s Learning Cycle
developed a theory of experiential learning which gives us a useful model by
which to develop training practice. This is called The Kolb Cycle. The cycle
comprises four different stages of learning from experience. This can be entered
at any point but all stages must be followed in sequence for successful
learning to take place.
Effective training strategies which
incorporate experiential learning approaches provide opportunities for a person
to engage in an activity, review this activity critically, draw some useful
insight from the analysis, and apply the result in a practical situation.
Remember the poem – I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I
Kolb’s experiential model can be
represented graphically as follows:
The experience(Concrete Experience) phase is the
initial activity and data-producing part of the experiential learning cycle. This
phase is structured to enable participants to become actively involved in
“doing” something. Doing, in this instance, includes a range of
activities such as the following:
Films and slide shows.
Completing an instrument.
This sample list indicates that the
range of training techniques varies from the more passive and artificial
(lectures) to the more active and real (skill practice). Which technique you choose
will depend largely on the goals of the training session.
Once the experience stage is completed,
the trainer guides the group into the process(Reflection)
part of the cycle. During this phase, participants reflect on the activity
undertaken during the experience phase, and share their reactions in a structured
way with other members of the group. They may speak individually, in small
groups, or as a full training group. They discuss both their intellectual and
attitudinal (cognitive and affective) reactions to the activities in which they
have engaged. In addition, with the trainer’s assistance, they try to link
these thoughts and feelings together in order to derive some meaning from the
The trainer’s role as facilitator is
very important during each phase of the cycle. During the process phase, he/she
should be prepared to help the participants think critically about the
experience and to help them verbalize their feelings and perceptions, as well
as draw attention to any recurrent themes or patterns which appear in the
participants’ reactions to the experience. The trainer’s role involves helping
the participants to conceptualize their reflections on the experience so that
they can move towards drawing conclusions.
The generalisation (Abstract
Conceptualisation) stage is the part of the experiential learning
cycle in which the participants form conclusions and generalizations which
might be derived from, or stimulated by the first two phases of the cycle. During
this phase, participants are helped to “take a step back” from the
immediate experience and discussion, and to think critically in order to draw
conclusions that might generally or theoretically apply to “real
This stage is perhaps best symbolized
by the following questions:
What did you learn from all this?
What more general meaning does this have for you?
The trainer structures this part of the
experiential learning model so that the participants work alone first, and then
are guided into sharing conclusions with each other, In this way, participants
exchange thoughts and ideas so that they may act as catalysts to one another.
The trainer helps to facilitate this
Asking and helping individual to summarize what they have learned into concise statements or generalizations
Pushing back at people to help make their thinking more rigorous
Relating the conclusions reached and integrating them into a theoretical model
Making sure, within reasonable time boundaries, that everyone who wishes to share a significant insight is given a chance to contribute
Helping the group compare and contrast different conclusions, identifying patterns where they exist, and identifying legitimate areas of disagreement
After participants have formed some
generalizations, they are guided into the application(Active
Experimentation)stage of the
cycle. Drawing upon insights and conclusions reached during the previous phase
(and other phases), they can begin to incorporate what they have learned into
their lives by developing plans for more effective behaviour in the future. In
an ideal educational or training event, participants would be able to apply
what they have learned immediately after the workshop ends. The applications
that they plan may relate to their profession or personal life, depending on
the background and needs of the specific groups.
Techniques used to facilitate the
application stage can include:
Individual work to develop a thoughtful action plan which puts “thought into action”
Participants review each other’s plans and assist in formulating ideas for action
Parts of individual action plans are shared with the whole group in order to create a sense of joint effort
Additional learning needs are identified by participants
One of the ways the trainer assists
during this process is by helping participants be as specific as possible in
developing their action plans.
It is important to stress two other
points about the experiential learning model. First, the exact nature of each
phase of the model is determined by the goals of the training session or
program. Once the goals are defined, then the session can be designed using the
model as the framework. Second, theory
can come in two different places – either before the experience, in which case
the experience becomes a way to test the theory or try out the skills implied
by it, or after, when it is interwoven into the generalization phase as
participants develop their own “theory”.
In order for this model to be
effective, it must be rigorously applied, both in the design and delivery
stages. “Experiential training is frequently misused in practice where it
seems to mean letting people participate in a presentation, having a question
and answer session after a lecture, or a role play or case study by itself
without the subsequent steps in the model. Most frequently, -the generalizing and
application stages are left out of the design of the program. As a result, the
power of experiential learning is significantly diminished or is negated
Although the model, when correctly
explained, looks very clear, its practical application is not always as clear. There
are transitions between phases, and occasionally (especially if the trainer is
going too fast), the group will return to a phase until it is ‘finished’. Also,
individuals within the group may not approach the learning process in such a
linear fashion, which is perfectly legitimate. The model is meant to serve as a
guide for the trainer or instructor who is trying to design and carry out an
educational experience for the group.
The model is especially useful for skill training because most of its techniques are active and are designed to involve the participants in skill practice. The experiential model helps people assume responsibility for their own learning because it asks them to reflect on their experience, draw conclusions and identify applications. The effective instructor or trainer does not do this for the participants. Thus, they are not spoon-fed, nor are they led to be dependent on experts. Of course, this model requires a special trainer or instructor style for it to be implemented effectively.