Can Experiential Learning Be Applied To eLearning?

Can Experiential Learning Be Applied To eLearning?
Summary: Experiential learning is a process that allows learners to develop knowledge and skills from their own experience rather than from formal training courses. Experiential learning encompasses a variety of interactive and participative hands-on activities and is much more effective than traditional learning approaches. This article is the first in a series about Experiential Learning. Check it out and learn some of the critical elements of Experiential Learning and the reasons why Experiential Learning is important.

What Is Experiential Learning?

Way back in 350 BCE, a Greek philosopher, thinker, mathematician, astrologer, historian and analyst, wrote: "...for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." Even prior to that, the Chinese philosopher, Confucius, wrote:

I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do, and I understand!

Based on that, one might say that Confucius and Aristotle actually planted the seeds of Experiential Learning as it is formally called today.

Until those fundamental principles of Experiential Learning were articulated and understood, learning environments were confined to didactic and rote styles, where learners had more of a passive role to play in their education.

Perhaps a more "modern" definition of what Experiential Learning is all about comes from The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). The AACSB Task Force, in their 1989 report, defined Experiential Learning as a:

"...curriculum-related endeavor which is interactive (other than between teacher and pupil) and is characterized by variability and uncertainty"

5 Critical Εlements of Experiential Learning

If we carefully analyze the above definition, we can see there are several key elements that a curriculum must embrace for it to meet the criteria of being called "experiential":

  1. Participative.
    Unlike one-way rote or didactic learning, Experiential Learning is all about participation and two-way learning experiences, where students and other stakeholders actively engage in learning experiences.
  2. Interactive.
    While most learning styles (even rote and didactic, one may argue) require interaction between teachers and students, Experiential Learning stresses other interactions as well - student-student, student-environment and student-outsiders (clients, civic leaders, community members etc.). In other words, Experiential Learning experiences take learners beyond the classroom, and ventures out into the real world.
  3. Multi-dimensional.
    Not only does Experiential Learning tap the behavioral dimensions of learners, but also their affective and cognitive dimensions.
  4. Variability and Uncertainty.
    While "rote based" students are unprepared to deal with anything other than the prescribed syllabus, Experiential Learning curriculum is deliberately structured to add uncertainty and variability into the learning environment. Under the teacher’s guidance, learners are taught to deal with situations that they are unfamiliar with.
  5. Feedback.
    Experiential Learning relies heavily on feedback loops, both from students about their experiences, and from teachers about their views of the process.

Why experiential learning is important

The world today is much more complex and integrated than that which produced legendary minds like Confucius and Aristotle. The pace at which environments and knowledge change is far greater than what we have witnessed before in history. The need for "outside the box" thinking, and thinking "on ones feet" is even more important today than it was historically.

The only way that learners (either in kindergarten, school, college or the workforce) can survive and thrive in a dynamic and constantly evolving environment, is by learning to quickly adapt to change. It is only through Experiential Learning characteristics that, when weaved into learning curricula, students will be better prepared to face the complexities of the modern world.

In the Can Experiential Learning Be Applied To eLearning? Part 2 article, we will talk about the two schools of experiential learning. We will learn how experiential learning works and, most importantly, how, we, as instructional designers, can apply it to our eLearning lessons.

If you want to learn more about Instructional Design and eLearning, please check out the Instructional Design for ELearning: Essential guide to creating successful eLearning courses book. This book is also available in Spanish