From an experience to durable learning

As an homeschooler mum I am strongly convinced that experience is the fuel of learning. But experiencing something is not enough to durably learn something new. In this article I will resume all the steps that should take place in order to turn learning into durable learning.

First, let’s analyse the word “experience”. Where does it come from?

From Latin experientia: "a trial, proof, experiment; knowledge gained by repeated trials" and from experientem (nominative experiens) "experienced, enterprising, active, industrious".

So experience and knowledge are deeply bounded. But we all know that knowing something, doesn’t mean having learned it durably. Have you ever heard following words from Benjamin Franklin?

"Tell me, and I will forget. Show me, and I may remember. Involve me, and I will understand."

By involving somebody, we will allow this somebody to experience something new. So also experience and learning are deeply bounded. But how, exactly, an experience turns into a new learning?

Dr. Kolb in his Experiential Learning Cycle (1984) described his theory called "Experiential Learning", which emphasizes the central role that experience plays in the learning process:

In Kolb's model one cannot learn by simply watching or reading about it, to learn effectively the person must actually do (concrete experience), like already Franklin resumed. And is simply doing something already sufficient to learn durably something?

No! We need a reflective observation of the new experience. This means taking time-out from "doing" and stepping back from the task and reviewing what has been done and experienced. So this is the crucial step to a durable learning.

And how exactly can we concretely reflectively observate? By filling any inconsistencies between experience and understanding, through journals, discussions, questions,... Also critical thinking is needed at this stage.

Back to Kolb’s model: the abstract conceptualization follows the reflective observation. At this stage the learner makes comparisons between what they have done, reflect upon and what they already know.

The next stage of the cycle is the active experimentation: not only we need to reflect our experience, in order to durably learn, but we also have to keep trying and exercising.

Last but not least most people need to place learning in a context that is relevant and useful to them. If one cannot see how the learning is useful to one's life then it is likely to be forgotten very quickly.

Written by:

Sonia Simpatico – JUMP team


Experience | Origin and meaning of experience by Online Etymology Dictionary

Experiential learning articles + critiques of David Kolb's theory (reviewing.co.uk)

David Kolb — University of Leicester

Simply psychology

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