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TrainingZONE Glossary: Experiential Learning

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Experiential Learning

Definition: Not to be confused - as we've seen mis-typed on several occasions - with 'experimental learning'! Experiential Learning describes the process for using our everyday actions and experience as the source of our learning.

The text of an ancient Chinese proverb reads:
I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand.
and this captures the essence of experiential learning - that our understanding in insight comes from the activities we undertake.

Building on the work of earlier authors, such as Dewey and Lewin, David Kolb is now the most well-known exponent of experiential learning learning theory. Various papers provide a fuller description of his work. Here is one example.

At the core of his theory, Kolb describes a cyclical process for learning in which there are four stages which follow on from one another in a continous loop:

  1. Concrete experience: when people experience real events throught their actions and behaviours
  2. Reflective observation: when they break off from the active experience to reflect upon them
  3. Abstract conceptualising or theorising: when, as a result of the reflection, people derive insights from their experience, from which they may draw conclusions or formulate their own rules or theories
  4. Active experimentation: when people test out their insights and conclusions by creating new experiences which will validate their learning.

This simple four stage model has been widely adopted in many training and educational contexts as a key foundation in the design and development of learning programmes with people of all ages. It challenges the notion that you can simply impart knowledge by teaching theory or facts in a pedagogic way and asserts the primacy of people's own individual experience as the starting point for all learning. Other writers have developed the model to explore its implications for the trainer in terms of their role in managing this cyclical learning process.

Our understanding of experiential learning has contributed significantly to the recognition of learning styles and the development of action learning.


Feature articles on experiential learning

Experiential learning on the web.

Active Reviewing tips for experiential learning.

An index of all our news items related to learning.


Resource materials

A selection of downloadable resources on learning from the Library.


Featured providers using experiential learning in their work:

E-mail us to list your company here.

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