The Model of Experiential Learning

The experiential model of learning has by far had the biggest impact on my understanding of education, and it forms the cornerstone of what defines true learning. I believe this model needs to be taught to everyone early on in school, and that learning how to learn deserves so much more focus than it currently gets.

Let me first clarify that this diagram and model is a theory for not just learning in education, but learning in every single part of our life, from remembering someone’s name, to studying quantum physics, to making sense of the world and everything in between. There are critiques of the model that it doesn’t work for absolutely everything, but I still feel it’s a very helpful theory to help us understand the process of learning more.

Experiential Learning

Let’s quickly analyse the circle:

Act

A great piece of advise from the legendary Richard Branson

This emphasises the importance of doing, something which has unfortunately become decreasingly popular in our society from becoming too passive. Just look at Facebook and how we can like or share so many things without actually posting or creating our own content. Just like we learn to play tennis or ride a bike by actually doing those things rather than reading a manual for it, doing is by far an underrated method of learning in today’s society.

Reflect

After doing things, we either subconsciously or consciously need to reflect on it to improve our performance (Unlike the connotations of the word reflection, it is not limited to just emotions and feelings!). For example, while learning to play tennis, the reflections would be obvious and subconscious, realising that the ball hit the net or the ball landed outside of the other court. Reflections can also be much more conscious processes for more complicated ideas. When I reflect on how my studying is going for example, it can be a lot more challenging, as I’d need to look through all the positives and negatives of my recent study behaviour to observe how I’m doing in several aspects all at once, rather than just one simple swing of the tennis racket.

Professional Tennis PlayerConceptualise

The next step flows on very naturally in that we then think about how something happened and how we can fix it.  To continue the tennis example, it would be realising that I need to swing more powerfully or aim the racket at a higher angle if the ball had hit the net. Regarding the study example, my blog posts reflecting on my study technique like the Facebook/Media breaks explore my study habit issues and how I can fix it.

Apply

The final step in the cycle completes the circle nicely, in that we re-do the action with our new understanding in order to do something better. We take another swing with the tennis racket to correct our previous mistake. I plan to stop taking media breaks while studying in order to remain productive. And hopefully this application step will improve our process and allow us to repeat the cycle all over again.

What does this all mean for me?

The trick to this learning model is that it’s a complete cycle and we cannot dwell on just one area; the goal for learning should be to continually cycle through all the steps as fast we can to learn more. Someone who keeps playing tennis socially and doesn’t analyse their own technique can play for  thousands of hours without getting much better. In contrast, someone who just reads articles on how to be better at tennis (which I admittedly used to do a lot!) won’t improve much at all without physical practice. A professional tennis player will analyse every stroke and step that they make while training and focus on improving it while they are playing. They do it at a greater level too when they analyse their strategy during a match and how it’s affecting them. Reading articles along with their practice allows them to conceptualise new ideas and to apply them to their match.

An example of different learning styles depending on where we tend to be on the circle.
An example of different learning styles depending on where we lean in the cycle.

Our study needs to continue cycling through this model too if we want to be able to study effectively. So while studying, we need to regularly observe how we’re going, analyse it honestly to see what we can do better, then implement the more effective study technique. This blog personally helps me to more consciously force myself through the cycle rather than being stuck in one step, something that’s very easy to do for if we don’t put in an effort to think about it.

Concluding Thoughts

I’ll end the post there although I have so much more to say about Experiential Learning and how powerful a tool it is if we cycle through the learning process as fast as we can. It’s important to identify whenever we’re paused somewhere on the cycle in any learnings – so we’re always working smarter rather than harder while also avoiding the trap of just listening to “experts” and taking their advice. The right mixture of going through the cycle quickly doesn’t come naturally for most of us, we usually lean to one corner or half of the cycle, and so it’s crucial to complete the cycle in areas which we usually fall short on.

So it’s time to ask yourself, how does your learning fall on this cycle? Where do you tend to pause most often? How can you speed up your learning? Hopefully these questions can get you started on this incredibly interesting but neglected topic, so that we can all take advantage of learning fast.

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