Benefits of Experiential Learning

team members standing and planning

The adult experiential learning cycle is largely about action based learning. David Kolb’s Experiential learning model – one of the most commonly used models of learning styles defines four stages inthe learning cycle: concrete experience, observation and reflection, the formation of abstract concepts and testing in new situations…. which brings us back to concrete experience.

This is at the foundation of outdoor experiential learning programmes.

We remember best what we experience. We understand best what we identify with. We learn best by doing. This is the very foundation of effective learning. Awareness of the importance of personal experience in the retention of learning is an advantage when designing training activities.

Behaviour follows patterns that we create as we come across new situations and deal with them. Our solutions may not be the best possible, but they are what we have done before and are comfortable with. These patterns dictate our default approaches, methods and attitudes.

For example, careless person at home is unlikely to be careful with important documents at work. A person who resists change in his social life may take time to be comfortable with change at his workplace. A creative person is also likely to come up with interesting options when tickets to the movie he wanted to see are unavailable.

Most of the time, this is an unconscious process. Experience has taught us to prefer certain actors more than others. We learn to be careful of our belongings. We trust new acquaintances who have mannerisms we have noticed before in trustworthy people. These behaviors are triggered by previous experiences that we automatically take a reference from.

Experiential learning is increasing our reserve of reliable experiences that can help us adapt to any challenging situation we come across. When attempting to learn through experience, we first have to have a concrete experience of a scale such that it is brief enough to be analysed in detail, contains enough detail to draw learnings from and has meaning for the group analysing it.

On outdoor management training programmes, concrete experience is provided through training exercises, outdoor adventure activities and team building games.

Processing experiential learning activities through group discussions and feedback can derive much more information from even seemingly mundane events. For example:

When I miss an important meeting at work, I learn that I should be more careful. If I think of the causes and solutions, I immediately see that I need a planner, or that the alarm o n my mobile phone could have been used to avoid a situation like that; or that I should have planned for the meeting o n the day before. I could also decide that I should schedule such things for a particular time of the day when possible. These learnings can save quite a few missed appointments.

A person who misinterprets an important brief, if trained to analyse situations, could find a pattern of carelessness and identify situations when he is more likely to be hasty and be extra careful in those times.

It is about awareness. If we can become aware of what it is that we are doing, we easily are able to differentiate between what is effective and what is not