meaningful knowledge comes through a series of experiencesDavid Kolb, philosopher
Experiential learning is a theory most recently claimed by philosopher David Kolb in the late 1970’s. His research and ideas suggest that meaningful knowledge comes through a series of experiences. He says that our individual and personal experiences, work to teach us about different subjects. If an experience is interactive, emotional, challenging and thought-provoking it will stimulate further learning for the individual involved in the experience. With that, Kolb stresses that involvement is essential to experiential learning. It is not enough to just show up. Those who are not fully involved in an experience will not gain useful knowledge from the activity. When no new knowledge is gained, growth cannot happen. In other words, experiential learning requires meaningful participation.
Experiential learning four-step cycle
Kolb and others assert that the experiential learning process follows a four-step cycle. This cycle of learning includes a concrete experience, facilitated reflection, conceptualization and active experimentation. When this cycle is followed through, experiential learning occurs.
Firstly, the experience is the activity that the person engages in. For example, at Outward Bound, hiking, climbing, expedition, camping, kayaking etc. serves as the experience. Once the individual shows up to the event, they have thus been engaged in the experience. Yet, the depth of their learning will depend on how involved they decide to be.
Secondly, the reflection aspect of the learning cycle is the moment when facilitators ask their participants thought-provoking questions relevant to their experience. Reflection is crucial to the process because it forces individuals to verbalize their experience and what it means to them in the moment and after the fact. Without this, the experience is just an activity without a personal connection.
After reflection, individuals are given space to form concepts, which happens on the personal level. It is up to the learner, to decide how they will use this knowledge to their benefit in daily life. This process will take place outside the concrete experience.
Finally, once conceptualization occurs, facilitators and those involved in the experience can now hope that these concepts will lead the learners to act on their knowledge. Thus, individuals are now set up to put these skills into practice more routinely. In the end, this is the goal of experiential learning.
When the cycle is complete, the learner’s behavior should shift in a positive way because of this growing process. We in Outward Bound Croatia operate on the basis of experiential learning in what we do. By providing outdoor experience and activities, we hope that our participants will engage in the activities, reflect, conceptualize and practice new-found skills and knowledge.
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