Experiential learning refers to learning through experience. Usually information is transferred through senses and we first get the information through watching and listening. But watching and listening in itself is a passive activity and cannot always result in productive learning. Learning can occur only when we are actually able to do things or implement them on our own.
Experiential learning can be observed in everyday life such as when a person learns how to ride a bicycle or while learning how to play a musical instrument among other activities. The experience of learning to cycle includes taking action, analyzing and understanding consequences of the action taken and deciding on whether to continue with that action or whether to take a different action. The most important aspect in learning from experience techniques is the fact that the learner chooses to actively participate and reflect on what is attained. In this respect experiential learning holds an edge because people tend to learn far more through it than through simple manual instruction and lecture. Kurt Lewin pointed out the importance of integration of emotions and action for effective learning to occur.
For genuine knowledge to be imparted through experience certain aspects are required:
- The important aspect is the willingness of the learner to be an active participant. Without complete and willing participation learning cannot take place.
The learner should have the time and opportunity to reflect on his experience.
Analytical skills on the part of the learner are crucial so that he can convert the experience into concepts.
Decision making ability and problem solving skills are equally important so that the learner can put to practice new ideas that he gains from his experience.
David Kolb described learning in the book "Experiential Learning through a four step process." These steps include watching, thinking, feeling (emotion) and doing. In experiential learning the learner reflects on an experience from several perspectives and this allows the learner to develop abstract concepts and sound theories as well. Experimentation is what allows the learner to test what has been learned so that it can be used in complex situations. How we learn from experience can be seen in educational or professional settings wherein we apply a skill and analyze and evaluate this practice so as to repeat it with or without changes. Likewise we perform an act and reflect on it so as to determine if it would be beneficial to continue with it or whether changes need to be made in it. Experiential learning is widely used in modern times particularly in online learning methods.
The greatest benefit of experiential learning is that it results in long term recall in learners, a greater understanding of the subject matter and improved problem solving abilities. Likewise experiential leaning also encourages independent thinking among the learners as against traditional learning methods that tend to make the learners dependent. However traditional teachers may find it difficult to adjust to this form of instruction, particularly those who believe in passive learning. Experiential learning techniques are not implemented in many schools because while instructors do understand that experience teaches skills they find it problematic to implement the same while teaching facts and theories. Organizations likewise find it difficult to implement this approach since many times consequences of important decisions are not immediately or directly experienced.