Become an Experiential Educator from the INSIDE OUT: Identifying Your Own Learning Process Will Help You Design and Deliver Better Programs for Learners

By Peterson, Kay | Talent Development, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Become an Experiential Educator from the INSIDE OUT: Identifying Your Own Learning Process Will Help You Design and Deliver Better Programs for Learners


Peterson, Kay, Talent Development


Employees are expected to learn more, faster--and experiential learning initiatives can help them achieve this. Educators and learners alike who understand the process of learning and their own approach to using it are empowered to be more successful during formal training; then, they continue learning daily through developmental interactions and hands-on experience. Thus, trainers and instructional designers will want to become experiential educators, an inside-out process, as David Hunt suggests in his book Beginning with Ourselves.

Many people believe experiential learning is a pedagogy or application, such as a team building exercise. In reality, it makes explicit a research-based model for learning (the learning cycle), defines nine approaches to using it (the learning styles), and proposes a model of development. Experiential learning is holistic; it takes into account all parts of a person--feelings, perceptions, thoughts, and actions--and can be applied to all areas of life. When you make a decision, work on a team, or interact with family, you are learning.

This method is not to be confused with the dozens of learning cycles or learning styles that are often debunked as a style-matching approach. Since David Kolb developed experiential learning nearly 50 years ago, thousands of research studies have confirmed its value, placing it among the most valued approaches to management education. It is uniquely suited to address the learning challenges of the 21st century by empowering learners to take charge of their own learning.

Experiential learning is expanding from the academic classroom to corporate training and coaching in such places as the U.S. military, state supreme court systems, and service and healthcare organizations. The Institute for Experiential Learning has created programs to develop experiential educators who understand both theory and practice and can apply it at the individual, team, and organizational level. The goal is to put experiential learning on the agenda of every organizational change and development effort and anyone looking to enact personal change.

Here is what we suggest you do to become an experiential educator.

Master the learning cycle process

The Experiential Learning Cycle makes explicit an ideal four-step, iterative learning process:

1. Experiencing. Attend to your concrete experience in the moment.

2. Reflecting. Pause to reflect on that experience to search for meaning.

3. Thinking. Engage abstract thinking and generalizations leading to a decision.

4. Acting. Do something to test or implement your decision, and the cycle begins again with a new experience.

The learning cycle is simple enough for most people to grasp in just a few minutes, yet, every trainer will notice the two dimensions--the north-south experiencing and thinking pole (ways of taking in information) and the east-west reflecting and acting pole (ways of processing that information)--are pairs of opposites that require different capabilities. The nine learning styles (see sidebar on page 35) can describe the different ways individuals use the learning cycle.

In the Institute for Experiential Learning's program, educators identify their learning style, raising self-awareness about their own way of navigating the learning cycle and the impact it has on their effectiveness. For instance, one participant, Kent, identified his learning style as imagining, a style that favors experiencing and reflecting steps in the learning process. This style supported his career path as a trainer and internal coach (with the strengths of generating new ideas, seeking others' opinions, and being empathetic). However, because Kent did not use thinking and acting to the same extent, he had difficulty making decisions, setting boundaries, and completing projects. This carried over in his work as a trainer: He was strong at creating experiences and helping employees to reflect; yet, he was not as careful to make sure they had time to draw conclusions and practice applying what they learned. …

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