Experiential (action based) learning

July 21, 2005 § Leave a comment

Rendering of human brain.

Image via Wikipedia

Many using experiential or action based learning have read ‘Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development’ by David Kolb.

First published in 1984, his ideas have had a dramatic impact on the design and development of lifelong learning models.

  1. Concrete experiences – affective development
  2. Reflective observations – perceptual development
  3. Generalizations about experiences – symbolic development
  4. Active experimentation – behavioural development

Critiques of David Kolb’s theory

Beard and Wilson:

The Power of experiential learning of which the mentioned critiques were summarised by Tim Pickles as follows:
1. Kolb’s theory locates itself in the cognitive psychology tradition, and overlooks or mechanically explains and thus divorces people from the social, historical and cultural aspects of self, thinking and action.
2. The idea of a manager reflecting like a scientist in isolation on events is like an ‘intellectual Robinson Crusoe’. The social interactions of a person are very important to the development of self, thought and learning.
3. Progressing sequentially through the cycle is questioned: “Learning can be considered as a process of argumentation in which thinking, reflecting, experiencing and action are different aspects of the same process. It is practical argumentation with oneself and in collaboration with others that actually forms the basis for learning.”

Ancient patterns

Kolb was not the first to investigate how people learn, and Confucius around 450 BC, Maria Montessori in the previous century, and many nameless others in our history have taught it before: The greatest learning occurs when learning is grounded in experience and uses (at least) the following learning ways so people can learn in by them preferred ways, not necessarily in Kolb’s order. And Air, the leading light, is of course, very argumentative and collaborative (if practiced in healthy ways).

Hence we add accelerated learning while not taking any learning model too seriously, a dash of chaos, lots of observation and feedback to figure out what works and what doesn’t in a particular context, a handful of creative facilitation, improvisation and humour to meet the unknown with, and do not design or facilitate what we do not have experience with walking in our professional lives ourselves.


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