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Experiential Learning – The Future of Education

Aug 11, 2020    7 min read

The Ministry of HRD has recently put forward the National Education Policy 2020 (NEP) which, among other things, is aimed at reforming the current Indian education pattern and aligning it more with internationally accepted education norms. Moreover, the NEP 2020 shifts the focus from the traditionally used system of rote-learning, which has been the norm in India, to a system based on experiential learning and conceptual understanding, which would help students apply their knowledge in real world situations. And this is not something new. For many years, educators across the globe have made the case for shifting towards a more experiential learning pattern which is more likely to help students succeed in their daily lives as social individuals.

But what exactly is Experiential Learning? What are the benefits? And what can teachers do to incorporate this pattern in their own classrooms?Let’s find out.

The simplest way to explain Experiential Learning is an adage that we all know: I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.

The American educational theorist David Kolb defined experiential learning as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience." According to him, the way to gain knowledge is by understanding an experience and suitably applying the learning from that experience in other situations. According to Kolb’s model, the four steps of experiential learning are:

  1. Concrete Experience: The stage where the student encounters a new experience, or has to reinterpret an existing experience.
  2. Reflective Observation: The student has to study and reflect on the new experience and figure out any inconsistencies between experience and understanding
  3. Abstract Conceptualization: By reflecting on the experience, the student is encouraged to create a new concept or suitably modify any existing concept and form a new conclusion.
  4. Active Experimentation: The student applies his conclusions or ideas in the real world setting to test his hypothesis, and thereby creating newer experiences.

Traditional Learning Methods (Rote Learning) v/s Experiential Learning

Traditional learning methods in India have focussed far too much on rote learning and memorisation. This allowed students with a good memory to potentially score more, even if the lessons or concepts were not clear to them. On the other hand, a pattern which encourages understanding at a conceptual level can help students build on the foundation of what they already know and help them to create new and more meaningful connections between new and old concepts. By encouraging students to think critically from an early age, experiential learning helps them to discover new connections and acquire new problem solving skills, rather than rely on quick fix solutions offered by parents and teachers.

A classic example of the difference between traditional learning and experiential learning is how children learn about animals. In traditional system, students learn about animals by reading what is written in a book, and what is told to them by the teacher. However in the experiential model, students learn about animals by going to a zoo or an animal reserve, and observing animals in the real-life environment of the zoo. By observing, interacting, enquiring and coming up with suitable hypothesis about what the animals eat, how they behave in captivity, how they interact with other animals and the zoo-keepers, students can learn a lot more, and a lot better as compared to the traditional model.

Benefits of Experiential Learning

Studies have shown that the benefits of experiential learning are widespread and go far beyond the school years. Just a few benefits of this model are :

  1. Students who tend to ignore boring classroom lectures can learn better and in more meaningful ways, by applying concepts in real life situations, and get real, tangible results.
  2. By engaging the logical as well as creative sides of their brains equally, children can be encouraged to learn that there can exist more than one “correct" solution for any problem. This can lead to a better learning experience as well as a more progressive society as a whole.
  3. Since experiential learning happens through trial and error, “mistakes" become an integral part of the learning process, and are not considered as “failures”. The paralysis that many students - and adults - suffer from the fear of making mistakes can significantly reduce, once they begin to value their “mistakes" as a learning experience.
  4. Experiential learning goes beyond the classroom and can make every place a hotspot for community learning. A student can continue to learn from his house, in the park, during a visit to a factory or an office during a visit. With modern technology, tools and online education platforms, students can work in groups from their own homes to develop a plan of action, and challenge each other to improve their own critical thinking abilities, even in volatile circumstances.
  5. Students benefit by getting an opportunity to apply their learnings through discovery and exploration immediately, immediately in real-life situations. By testing various hypothesis and processes, they can learn to experiment and adapt their behaviour to come up with the best approach to any situation.
  6. The experiential learning model engages feelings and emotions as well as the logical and rational aspect of learning. By including their emotional side in the learning process, students can be happier and satisfied with their learning process, which can lead to a better comprehension of concepts.

While the NEP 2020 is pushing for experiential learning process in the future, schools can do a lot to promote a hands-on learning approach within and outside their classrooms. Among many others things, these include:

  • Conducting mock classroom trials and debates
  • Creating out-of-class community service opportunities for students
  • Using interactive learning apps such as Practically that use Augmented and Virtual Reality simulations to create an immersive and engaging environment, wherever they may be.
  • Role-playing activities that replicate famous real-life events to help students memorize different people.
  • Encouraging scientific experiments and open-minded questions to determine cause and effect

It is clear that the new changes proposed in the NEP are bound to increase focus on understanding and application of core concepts, rather than mechanical memorisation of information. After many years, the NEP 2020 is a long awaited first step towards a holistic approach of learning that will help students develop skills as per their inherent aptitude and competencies. And that can only mean exciting new things are in store for the education system and students in India.

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