Can Experiential Learning Be Applied To eLearning? Part 2

Can Experiential Learning Be Applied To eLearning? Part 2
Summary: This is the second part of the article titled “Experiential Learning: Can it be applied to eLearning?”. In this 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.

In the first article, Can Experiential Learning Be Applied To eLearning?, we defined the term Experiential Learning and talked about the critical elements of Experiential Learning. We also covered some of the reasons why experiential learning is important.

The 2 Schools of Experiential Learning

Kolb and Experiential Learning

According to the psychologist David Kolb, Experiential Learning is "...a process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience." This was a radical switch from previously held beliefs of cognitive theorists (emphasis on mental processes) and behavioral theorists (largely ignoring subjective experiences in learning).

Kolb believed that learning was a more holistic experience than simply a function of the cognitive or behavioral elements. In addition to these two, Kolb's theory recognizes that other factors, including emotions and environmental conditions, greatly influence learning outcomes.

Kolb's theory of Experiential Learning is based on four factors: Concrete Experience, Abstract Conceptualization, Reflective Observations and Active Experimentation. According to Kolb, these 4 elements form a cycle or process through which learners are able to observe, understand, grasp, practice (experiment) and learn.

Carl Rogers and Experiential Learning

Psychologist Carl Rogers advocated his own theory of Experiential Learning, which is grounded in several core principles:

  1. Learning is accelerated when the student is interested in the subject matter
  2. Where the subject matter is perceived as threatening to the learner (e.g., the need to change his/her behavior or attitude about strongly held perceptions), learning is accelerated if external (threatening) factors are eliminated or reduced
  3. Learning that has been self-initiated by the learner will prove to be more effective than learning that's forced, without choice of the learner)

According to Rogers, there are two distinct types of learning: Significant (Experiential) and Meaningless (Cognitive). Rogers opined that true learning only takes place when there is confrontation between personal, social or practical challenges and the learner and/or the subject matter being studied.

How Experiential Learning Works?

At its very basic level, Experiential Learning seeks to foster learning as a by-product of learners experiences. Students can read all the books about venturing into space, but it is only an Astronaut who has actually travelled into space and really knows what space travel is all about. You do things. You fail at them. You understand why you failed. Then, you experiment again...and succeed!

Experiential Learning works by designing curriculum seeking to:

  • Mimic (as closely as possible) real-world experiences
  • Structure and monitor those experiences
  • Ensure that there is planned and deliberate "deviation" from the base curriculum
  • Provide ample opportunity for hands-on doing, experimenting and simulation

Using all of these elements produces a powerful learning experience that cannot be replicated by rote or other styles of learning.

How Experiential Learning Can Be Applied To eLearning

So, is there any "real life" application to Experiential Learning, and can we apply eLearning principles to facilitate it? The answer is a definite "YES" to both questions. Given everything discussed above about Experiential Learning, here are two situations where eLearning and Experiential Learning can be combined:

  • Situation#1
    In days of yore, future physicians and surgeons relied on cadavers to hone their skills, and practiced under strict supervision of senior surgeons/tutors in a hospital or clinic. Today, we can design comprehensive eLearning programs to simulate all the skills and knowledge needed by medical practitioners in an operating room. Medical "complications" can be introduced into the setting, and students can be forced to interact with their environment, and think creatively to resolve the challenges posed.
  • Situation#2:
    Learning complex concepts like Trigonometry, Algebra or Calculus is not very easy without extensive help, especially for adult learners. ELearning can change all that! By creating interactive learning content, and offering skills tests, online assignments and quizzes, self-assessment modules, learners can experiment with multiple solutions while they understand the underlying principles of the subject.

In both of these situations, eLearning and Experiential Learning are a perfect fit.

ELearning does not require learners to be co-located with tutors. Learning can be performed at the student's pace. Students learn by doing, failing, observing (videos, graphics, audio etc.) and then practicing. A varying degree of variability and uncertainty can be introduced in course content. Students can pace their learning based on the skills they learned previously (using a modular approach). Learning happens in a structured manner, yet "uncertainty" is part of that structure. There is a comprehensive mechanism of monitoring, tracking and feedback built using eLearning techniques.

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