Experiential Learning and Its Significance

Kavita Sanghvi

Principal, CNM School, Mumbai

Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory (Kolb, 1984) defines experiential learning as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience."

With my experience as a head and teacher trainer, I have observed that teachers confuse experiential with experiment. ‘Experiment’ may be a mode or a platform for experiential-based learning but is not a substitute. So why not go deeper into the flow of experiential-based learning?

The first step of the process is to ensure that the student has an ‘Experience’ which could be through an activity, an experiment, or an event like visiting a museum, watching a movie, listening to a motivating speech or investigating a phenomenon. Once the child has hands-on experience, he moves to the next step of ‘Reflection’ where they reflect on the same through some deep questions shared by the teacher.

Example: If the child has watched Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” they could be given the following questions from the talk by the teacher:

  • Why is the talk addressed as “The Danger of a Single Story?”
  • Reflect on the incidents quoted by the speaker as well as compare them with the incidents in your local setting.
  • What was the speaker trying to convey?
  • Predict how a single story will impact generations to come.
  • Imagine giving a talk on the same lines yourself, design your speech of 1000 words.

Similarly, if the student has conducted an experiment on the path of light through a glass block, the teacher could put forward questions like:

  • What did you observe in the path of rays before and after entering the glass block?
  • What could be the possible explanations for this observation?
  • Would it make a difference if we replace the glass block with a plastic block?

As soon as the child starts reflecting, he embarks on the third process, i.e. ‘Conceptualising’ which has four aspects of the process of re-evaluation, which will be considered by the learner. They are:

  • Association—relating new information to that which is already known.
  • Integration—seeking relationships between new and old information.
  • Validation—determining the authenticity for the learner of the ideas and feelings which have resulted.
  • Appropriation—making knowledge one’s own, a part of one’s normal ways of operating.

Thus students will connect concepts in the case of Chimamanda to history and geography stories, events and ideas shared in the class.

In the science experiment, they will connect the phenomenon to theories of reflection and refraction.

Finally, they move on to the last stage of ‘Application’, where they apply their learning to new experiences, concepts and phenomenon. Example: While reading the history of the place, they refer to incidents written by the natives and the outsiders. While doing the experiment of refraction, they connect the change in the path of light to a pencil appearing crooked in a beaker filled with water.

Imagine if you were to compare the pieces of evidence of learning graphs of students taught by conventional method and by the experiential method, my questions posed to you are:

  • Where would you observe maximum learning and why?
  • What steps would you incorporate to bring in the change in your own school?
  • What challenges do you expect, and how do you plan to overcome them?

Every new experience brings in challenges, but with the right mindset and support, we can create miracles.

Kavita Sanghvi

Principal, CNM School, Mumbai