Experiential Learning Cycle

Theorists explain the process of learning from experience as cyclical in nature, which entails the learner to have an experience, evaluate and reflect on the experience, learn from it, and then apply the learning by experimenting. The teacher’s role here will be to facilitate the learning by guiding, questioning, clarifying, and providing resources. The learning activities must be authentic activities that are embedded in realistic and relevant contexts (situated learning); and learners must be provided with the opportunity to explore multiple perspectives on an issue, by carrying out varying activities to acquire a comprehensive view of a particular concept.

The explanation of the process of experiential learning provides a better understanding of how this can be applied to learning within a group, as well as by individuals in the group. Though learning may begin at any point in the cycle, generally it starts with an experience, which can occur as a result of an unplanned or planned learning opportunity. This stage is called concrete experience by Kolb and Fry (1975), or simply ‘do’ by Kirk (1987). The individual can be actively involved in the situation or the experience or can be an observer. This means that the individual can learn not only from own experience but also from that of others. This, I think, relates directly to learning from others within the group.

The next step is related to examining the experience minutely. This relates to Schon’s (1983) explanation of reflection, where the learner attends to the feelings and attitudes related to the experience, as well as the actual components of the experience. Sense has to be made of this experience so that conclusions can be drawn as to what was done correctly, what could be improved or changed if a similar situation arose again. This stage is called the reflective observation by Kolb and Fry (1975), or simply ‘review’ by Kirk (1987). This reflection can also be carried out collaboratively in a group. Gibbs (1988) and Schon (1983) in their reflective cycle describe this stage in greater detail, along with the skills required to reflect appropriately.

The learner can formulate rules and conceptualise to allow learning to take place. This is the third stage of the cycle. The understanding gained from this experience allows the learner to clarify issues that lead to a positive or negative consequence of the actions under scrutiny. This leads to learning about ways of responding to situations that will lead to more positive consequences. Kolb and Fry (1975) call this the abstract conceptualisation stage, while Kirk (1987) calls it simply ‘learn’, which again can be achieved individually or by collaboration and scaffolding within a group.

The last stage in the cycle relates to trying out this new learning by using the rules and concepts in another situation, also called active experimentation by Kolb and Fry (1975), or simply ‘apply’ by Kirk (1987). Since we have already stated that the process of learning according to this theory is cyclical in nature, this new experience will become a starting point for the next cycle of learning.

Experiential learning and reflection are also central to learner-centered approach in learning. The emphasis on learning in the workplace through work experience has also become important in education today. When people act in a taken-for-granted manner, almost unconscious manner, it is still a result of prior experiences rather than just intuitive response. However, if this kind of action is not possible, as their prior experience does not equip them to deal with the situation, then they have to stop and think or plan or learn something new. Herein lies the learning from experience. This process of stopping and thinking and defining the problem is essential to learning through experience.

This form of learning has become increasingly popular within facilitation of learning in the workplace. Learners gain theoretical understanding within the classroom. But the linking of theory to practice comes from the workplace experience by working through the experiential learning cycle. Thus, learning by this process can address all three domains – cognitive, psychomotor skills and affective – suggested by Bloom (Brockbank and McGill, 1999).