Chinese philosopher and teacher Confucius once said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” For Confucius, the art of learning and acquiring knowledge was directly related to living and experiencing. He would approve of the idea of experiential learning, which is learning through doing; here the learner is deeply involved in the educational process and is not a passive witness to it. This kind of learning isn’t just about educational kits or games; it can be realised through a visit to the museum, garden, park or even the vegetable market. All of these are experiences during which children can socially interact with people and engage with objects present in the environment, and learn more about them. The whole process helps student broaden their experiences, encourages reflection, enhances their understanding, and helps them acquire attitudes and observe practices.
While experiential learning has become a talking point over the past decade, it has been a part of the education culture around the world for ages. In India, we have known it as the guru-shishya parampara. Learning here involved interaction between the learners and their environment, as the gurukul functioned in an open area. However, today the benefits of experiential learning have brought the focus back to where it ought to be — helping children understand the world better and learn more.
The introduction of experiential learning has enabled children to look beyond their classrooms and work out their own unique strategy with the help of a teacher, rather than following a standard pattern, to derive an answer and interpret the subject in a broader perspective. Such form of learning engages the students in the process and helps them take crucial decisions.
In spite of the promising potential of experiential learning as a concept, the form in which it is being delivered to children today leaves much to be desired. While there are numerous experiential learning programmes promoted in educational institutions, many are unable to showcase the desired results as they fail to capture the essence of it all. An experience that doesn’t present scope for the participants to apply what they have learned can dilute the process of learning. At the same time, an over-reliance on experiences without bringing in theory can be inefficient and expensive as well.
It is imperative that we combine classroom learning with real-time experiences outside of it so that the children can stretch their imagination, experiment, take risks, make mistakes and understand the consequences, and then build capacities to manage them. It’s all about striking the right balance between a variety of learning methods. The key aspects of effective experiential learning are as follows,
Multisensory engagement: Many classrooms engage students in a visual or auditory style of learning. Multi-sensory learning comes in when there is a complete involvement of all the senses, including smell, touch and taste. A report by D G Treichler in the journal, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, stated that people remember 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, and 50% of what they see and hear. Combining all the senses into learning, therefore, is of benefit to students of all learning styles.
Real-life experiments: Real-world experiences bring a level of nuance and detail that no simulation can match. Simulations of real-world scenarios are limited in the knowledge and skills that they can impart. The interactions, possibilities of new connections, and pitfalls of the real world can be learnt only through real experiences. Such learning helps the students take responsibility for their actions, behaviour and results.
Reflections based on self-evaluation: Students should be able to use a self-assessment procedure, where they are able to judge themselves based on certain criteria and standards and write a reflective report on their learning experiences. They must also be able to obtain feedback on their reports from their teachers or peers. A self-evaluation programme, as opposed to an external certification, indicates the maturity of the learning system.
The following are the advantages of experiential learning programmes when they are delivered effectively:
Experiential learning encourages original thinking and enables students to think out of the box, which cannot be taught just from books or classroom lectures. Here, participants solve a real problem, which triggers a broad range of thinking strategies.
By virtue of multi-dimensional and multi-sensory engagement, students start to understand how structures and designs function. The more they engage with real-world systems, the better they start thinking of designs with a purpose associated with it.
Necessity is the mother of all invention, and nothing communicates better than the real world. Working within constraints makes students more creative, and teaches them the value of saving resources.
Experiential learning is a collaborative learning experience. The programme often involves working in groups or brainstorming in a team. This method of learning helps increase engagement levels and enables students to achieve their goals faster while communicating the importance of being a team player.
Hands-on programmes help students understand the critical aspects of good communication — learn body language, effective listening, understand scripts, etc.
As the world goes through a period of rapid transformation, we have a great challenge as well as a unique opportunity in the form of a future-ready educational process. Generation-Z will need to tackle some of the pressing global issues with great urgency, let’s bring about a learning revolution and make them into problem- solvers.
(The author is with Worldview,