Experiential Learning as Applied to the Fundamentals of Fashion Design

By Heaven, Virginia | International Forum of Teaching and Studies, Spring 2007 | Go to article overview
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Experiential Learning as Applied to the Fundamentals of Fashion Design

Heaven, Virginia, International Forum of Teaching and Studies


This paper is a limited exploration of the juncture at which the author's humanist teaching values and philosophy and predominantly constructivist methodology lie within the theory of Experiential Learning. By preliminarily exploring the work of Lev Vygotsky (1926), John Dewey (1938), Jean Piaget (1950) and David A. Kolb (1984), it may be possible to understand how to meld aspects of the theories of constructivism and experiential education into elegant yet simple applications specific to students of fashion design. The methodology for the research is an annotated literature review of selected theory sources from the early, mid, and late twentieth century and some contemporary journal articles.

[Keywords] Experiential learning; fundamentals; fashion design; art; design; retail management

Introduction and Inspiration for the Inquiry

I have been teaching the course the Fundamentals of Fashion Design for almost five years at Columbia College Chicago, in the Fashion Design concentration, Art and Design Department, School of Fine and Performing Arts. The course is a compulsory core offering for two concentrations: Fashion Design and Fashion Retail Management, however, it is open as an elective to students in other departments. It is taught in thirteen sections by five individuals.

When I first started to teach the Fundamentals of Fashion Design, I was given a scant existing syllabus and instructed that the day before I was expected to teach my own students, I should sit in on a colleague's class as a student, and take notes. The system worked; it was material I was familiar with and I experienced no problem reciting it back to my own students.

After three semesters (I taught one section the first semester, two the second, and three the third) I had taught the course enough times to realize that it was overall a poorly constructed syllabus. The students were often baffled about the purpose of the course content; I was continually being asked "why do we have to know this stuff?" or I would overhear the student's complain "It's so boring and out of date!" and I couldn't disagree. The information was disjointed and the assignments were cumbersome and confusing. In addition, there were no clear assessment criteria in place; I asked my colleagues how they determined their student's grades and I was appalled to discover that everyone had a different system according to what was important to them. I suggested that we meet with the Fashion Design Program Coordinator to discuss grading criteria and course content.

The meeting was a success, not because we got anything resolved but because we became aware that we all disliked the syllabus and had independently 'tweaked' the content to make it more relevant, contemporary and interesting. Unfortunately, it also became clear that we were essentially all teaching a different course, and although every instructor can reasonably be expected to have their own teaching methodology, this was ridiculous!

I started my Masters in the Education of Adults soon after the meeting. I became completely absorbed by the philosophy and methodology of teaching adults. I continued to teach the Fundamentals of Fashion Design, but instead of further changing the content of the course (which I deemed irresponsible and a much larger issue to be carefully considered) I began to explain the existing content in a different way to the students. I started to link aspects of the course information to the students own experience. For example, when talking about the fit of a garment I asked the students to describe a garment they owned which made them feel good, and invited them to explain why.

Eventually, I started to integrate a student-centered experiential component in my classes which I used as a base or scaffolding to build upon. The students responded well, they could finally 'see' themselves in the course work; they could understand more easily what I was trying to tell them.

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Experiential Learning as Applied to the Fundamentals of Fashion Design


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