Thursday 2 July 2015

When does experiential learning happen?

When does learning happen in experience-based programmes?

Does it mostly happen before, during or after the activities?

Or does it mostly happen during or after the post-activity review – or later still?

I'd suggest that learning can happen at any time such as ...

Before the activity: learning before doing
Learning can happen before the activity especially when the activity is being used as a means to check, verify, rehearse or practise what has already been learned but not yet put into practice. Doing the activity might lead to some small refinements but the main purpose of doing the activity would be for application and consolidation.

During the activity: learning through doing
Any reflection that happens during the activity is a natural (or even essential) part of the activity such as when working on a new challenge. During most activities people will be thinking and talking, reflecting and communicating even when their main focus is the activity itself.

After the activity: learning through unfacilitated reflection
If there is a gap between the activity and the review, participants may be reflecting about the activity on their own or they me be informally sharing their stories, feelings or opinions with others. Or they may be anticipating the review and even preparing for it in some way (such as the leader who feels they have let the team down)..

During the review: learning through facilitated reflection
Some of this reflection may be on what has already been learned, but reviewing is far more than a recap of learning. The main function of a review is to bring out new learning by facilitating reflection on activities and experiences during the reviewing process.

After the review: learning through informal reflection
A review may not be a tidy wrapping up process in which the learning is neatly packaged and labelled with no loose ends to tie up and no unfinished business. In fact a review can stir things up and leave people full of curiosity, perhaps puzzled about the feedback they received, or still inspired by an 'aha' moment of insight. This might lead to further conversations outside the review session or some thinking time alone.

After the programme: learning back in the real world
This is often the stage when classroom (or off-the-job) learning is tried out for real. If there is little need for new learning when applying what was learned, the situation is similar to the first point above ('Before the Activity'). But if the application is more of an exploration or experiment then it can be a significant continuation of the learning process.

But if you are under the spell of almost any theory of experiential learning you could be forgiven for being under the misapprehension that learning happens at just one stage of a multi-stage cycle.

Let's wake up to the many different opportunities for learning that experience offers - before, during, after and even long after the most intense part of the experience.

This post by Roger Greenaway was first published in Experiential-CPD a monthly listing of UK CPD events.

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