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I am grateful to Martin Thompson of MTAan expert in the experiential learning field for the following detailed explanation of the concept and its core principles, chiefly as they apply to the facilitation of experiential learning activities and events.
The article below is based on an item written in January by Martin Thompson called 'Experiential Learning in Action: While mainly focused on organised experiential activities, games, events and exercises, etc, the principles below can be adapted for other forms of experiential learning and development, for example job secondments and specially delegated projects, for which the techniques below offer an immensely helpful alternative approach compared with conventional methods of task-based review, which tend to ignore many valuable individual learner opportunities and lessons.
The essence of effective experiential learning is that the entire process is centred centered to USA-English speakers, sorry on the learner - not the task, not the organisational objective, not the qualification standard, not the group, and certainly not the trainer's or the teacher's personal opinions.
In this respect the underpinning philosophy of well executed experiential learning has much in common with the principles of good modern life coachingand also interestingly in facilitative decision-making methodologyboth of which place the other person at the centre of the issue, not the coach, seller, or organisation.
Activities - Concepts The conceptual basis of the process of experiential learning is commonly related to Kolb's Learning Cycle Kolb and Fry This model can be developed for experiential learning and summarised in the diagram below. Diagram adapted from Kolb's learning styles and process theory as it might be applied to experiential learning.
This 'Learning Cycle' provides a helpful simple diagram of the process of experiential learning, which is broadly: Here follow the principles of experiential learning on greater detail, especially as they relate to organised activities, events and games, etc. The learner is central The learner is central to the process throughout, the facilitator provides the learner with a service.
The principle that the success of the experiential approach to learning depends on the learners is fundamental.
Therefore the facilitator must understand that learners can only make best use of their opportunities if they are ready, willing and able to become personally involved in the learning process: Facilitation must be light and subtle Principle 2 Individuals can and do learn without facilitation.
Learners learn experientially by reflecting on their experiences, developing personal insights and understandings through involvement in intellectual, emotional and physical activity. This can be and often is done by an individual without any external help.
A facilitator is not a prerequisite. Experiential learning involves people in working things through for themselves and developing their own understanding, so facilitators should always be seeking ways to enable this to happen.
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Although effective facilitation can add tremendous value, facilitators should remember that inappropriate facilitation can hinder, rather than help learning; they should not instruct, proffer knowledge, proscribe or offer personal wisdom.
The facilitator can provide help during each element of the learning cycle by creating an appropriate learning environment, providing an activity that will initiate the learning process, creating an atmosphere and framework conducive to constructively critical review, guiding thinking and challenging to developing understanding ensuring that any conceptual thinking is progressed to meaningful conclusions and opportunities for improvement identified.
Facilitation is a complex and skilled process.
Reactions to experiences vary so don't pre-judge You cannot predict the learning an individual will take from an activity. Because individuals are personally involved in experiential learning individuals can take very different messages from a single event.
An obvious example is one where a person fails to listen to another. If they are to learn, both individuals need to understand their part in their failure to communicate, but the causes could be numerous and therefore each persons learning very different.
So for example, behaviours seen in an individual who isn't heard could be; doesn't express ideas clearly, doesn't check the 'listener has understood', speaks when the other person isn't ready to listen, doesn't help the listener understand the significance of the information, fails to develop the idea, backs down when challenged, etc.
Similarly example reasons why a 'listener' doesn't listen could be; doesn't see the issue as being important, had prejudged the issue, is distracted by personal thoughts, doesn't respect the other person and or their views.
Therefore one event can provide the individuals involved with quite different or even diametrically opposed learning. Single events can enable several different learning effects There is potential for the learning to be at several levels. In the example used in note 4 above I gave behaviours for not being heard, but reasons for not listening.
Typically addressing and developing behavioural change is less challenging than addressing the reasons. Taking the example from above, it can be seen that there is a hierarchy of challenge that the facilitator can encourage the learner to address: I won't be listened to if the other person is speaking developing the skill e.
Build confidence before addressing attitudes and behaviour Developing basic skills in a supportive environment is relatively simple, changing day to day behaviour is another matter. After having read this note it might be tempting to go straight to the fundamentals and target attitudes first.
If you have a positive attitude and personal confidence it is easier to implement personal change.
However remembering that the learner has to want to learn, it is far safer to build the learners confidence through success with skill development and behavioural change in simple or superficial areas first.
When some progress has been made you can consider raising and tackling more fundamental issues like personal confidence and attitudes to others. It's worth being aware however, that a knock on effect of individuals beginning to use new skills and realise their benefits can be a growth in self esteem and personal confidence.
The activity must be real and engaging - not based on artificial impact A learning activity is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The purpose of an experiential learning activity is to create an opportunity for valuable and memorable personal leaning.
The ideal activity will engage, stimulate and challenge with individuals becoming absorbed in the task as themselves.
It will not involve role play in a conventional artificial sense. All activities must be designed, managed and facilitated carefully so that the activity has impact, but it isn't so memorable that these 'activity memories' override the impact and memory of the learning.
If this happens the lasting memory may be an aspect of the activity, not the learning that was realised.Self-awareness involves developing an understanding of many dimensions of the individuality of an individual. Self -knowledge provides an essential foundation for general personal mastery as well as other personal management skills such as setting goals and priorities, and managing time and stress.
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