The argument for experiential learning

The new learning architect

Over the past year we have been publishing extracts from The New Learning Architect. We continue with the second part of chapter 10:

Experiential learning occurs whether we want it to or not, but there are good reasons why we should be actively supporting and encouraging it:

Because everyday work experience is rich with opportunities for learning: However hard you try to create authentic learning scenarios in the classroom, you will never match the real thing.

Because we don’t always take the best advantage of these opportunities: In the mad rush of everyday life, we don’t always take the time to reflect on what has gone well and what less well. True, if an incident has a major emotional impact on us, we can’t help but reflect on it, so much so that we may find it hard to sleep; but there are many less monumental learning opportunities that end up being wasted.

Because, if something goes well, we want to repeat it: Every effect has a corresponding cause, and when these effects are positive, we would be foolish not to try and pinpoint the causes. Obviously we may just have been the beneficiary of good fortune, but chances are there are some good practice lessons to be learned and ideally shared with our colleagues.

Because, if something goes wrong, we want to avoid it happening again: Children soon learn not to bang their head against the wall, because it hurts. But as adults we aren’t always so keen to learn from our misfortunes; we often just hope things will work out better next time. It may be more painful to reflect on our failings than our successes, but change is often painful, and learning is change.

According to James Zull, “Little true learning takes place from experience alone. There must be a conscious effort to build understanding from the experience, which requires reflection, abstraction and testing the abstractions. Testing our ideas through action is how we find out we are on the right track. The only pathway that seems unproductive for learning is the pathway that excludes testing of ideas.”


The art of changing the brain by James E Zull, Stylus, 2002

Coming next: The experiential learning toolkit

Return to Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9

Obtain your copy of The New Learning Architect

About Clive Shepherd

Clive Shepherd has written 244 post in this blog.

Clive is a consultant specialising in the application of technology to learning and business communications. He was previously Director of Training and Creative Services for a multinational corporation and co-founder of a major multimedia development company. For four years he was chair of the eLearning Network.

Download Our Free eBooks

Onlignment ebook link image

Leave a Reply