How to Create The Learning Experience That Students Crave

Some people offer courses merely to make money. Bah!

The question is how to provide rich learning experiences so we can do this.

One powerful, true and tried method is called experiential learning. In a nutshell, a course designed this way allows students to truly ‘get it’ (not just read content or watch a video – that’s passive and ineffective learning).

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HOW to DESIGN EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING

I use the experiential learning cycle method developed by Kolb. I’ve used this method for years as it’s very effective. I also share it with my clients when I design their e-courses.

4 repeating steps in the experiential learning cycle.

Kolb learning experience

Step #1 – Experience Something

In this step, you set up a lesson so that your students experience something first hand to gain a real sense of the phenomenon. It affects their emotions, challenges their ideas, and attitude. It’s not meant to be shocking but to have them feel something. This also motivates them to engage with your course.

NOTE: As teachers we can’t be responsible for what our students feel or how they perceive something. We can only hope they immerse themselves in the learning in their own way. We must let go of any restrictive outcomes.

Step #2 – Reflect on their Experience

Next, guide your learners in reflecting on their experience in terms of how they felt, what they thought of the outcomes, and to identify strengths and weaknesses of a particular experience.

The famous educator, John Dewey said, “We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

Step #3 – Think Abstractly

This is where your teachings come into play. You would deliver a lesson to your student in terms of new strategies, concepts, principles, steps, history, etc. that ties into the experience they just had. The after-effect of an experience is the best time to teach something new (i.e. it becomes a teachable moment). They are listening better.

Step #4 – Experiment With It

Finally, lead your students into an exercise to experiment with something new. Provide them feedback on their application of a new method or strategy, so they can develop further ideas on how to improve or maintain it.

The learning cycle could start again with the next lesson.

NOTE: Overstimulating your learners can have a negative effect. Use the experiential learning cycle for bigger lessons, or where you want to really feel and get something that is critical.

Examples of how to apply each experiential step in an ONLINE course.

I want to start by saying an experience can take place both online and offline. We don’t have to find whiz-bang virtual games, etc. to invoke a student experience. I weave both approaches throughout my suggestions below.

Step #1 – Experience Something

  • Have them try something at home or work by following certain instructions
  • Ask them to observe something specifically in their life with an open mind and to ponder a few given questions
  • Have them engage in an online debate with fellow students in a discussion forum
  • Link to simulations or games that requires skills, thinking and unpredictable outcomes (i.e. ‘serious’ educational games)
  • Share a moving video that stretches their assumptions
  • Have them engage in a virtual field trip (i.e. virtual museums, photo journey)
  • Have them listen to a controversial interview with an expert
  • Invite a guest speaker to share his or her story that is moving
  • Ask them to refrain or try from something for 3 or more days

Step #2 – Reflection on their Experience

NOTE: Reflections can be captured in a number of ways and can be private or shared with others. Students can reflect by …

  • Writing in a paper or digital journal about their experience
  • Answering poignant questions and taking time to think about it
  • Drawing or painting their reactions or adding movement
  • Using a word cloud to capture all their feelings and thoughts
  • Chatting with a course partner about their experience
  • Posting their reactions to a private online group in the course
  • Blogging about their experience

Step #3 – Think Abstractly

This is where you teach

  • Provide basic content about your key points in different forms, such as text, video, illustration, charts, audio, graphics, photos, quotes, etc. Use a variety.
  • Record or give a live lesson through video or audio and go deeper into the topic
  • Allow for questions and answers
  • Show examples of how to apply your principles, strategies, etc.
  • Share real stories from others on their results from such steps, strategies, etc.
  • Give worksheets, checklists and guides on how to apply
  • Use different instructional strategies to present your teachings

Step #4 – Experiment With It

  • Guide students how to apply your teachings using their experiences and new understandings
  • Help them practice by giving bite size exercises
  • Create practice exercises that start with their existing knowledge base
  • Give them a problem or case study to solve
  • Create a project that could be completed in pairs or groups (collaborate)
  • Model what different exercise outcomes might look like
  • Allow them to experiment with their own ideas
  • Have students share their outcomes, challenges/frustrations, and ‘aha’ moments
  • Provide feedback in some form
  • Give ideas how to continue applying your methods/ideas/strategies with success
  • Celebrate their accomplishments

The experiential learning cycle is a powerful method for designing lessons used throughout the educational world and by many teachers.

Give it a try :0)

 

  • Nan Einarson February 12, 2015, 5:32 pm

    Hi Kelly – I’m so glad to see you focus on the experiential learning cycle. It’s such an incredibly helpful way for trainers/facilitators/ teachers to assess whether or not participants/students have understood the lesson and know why and how to apply it to their own situation.

    I’ve always reduced the cycle more simply to –
    1. EXPERIENCE – spoken lesson, video or audio presentation, active involvement in an exercise, etc….
    2. WHAT – discuss what just happened in a sensory way – what did they see, hear, touch, taste, smell? What emotions came up for them? What just happened?
    3. SO WHAT -discuss how is this relevant to me, my situation, my resources? So what needs to change, what additional resources will I need, what results do I want to have now?
    4. NOW WHAT – discuss making a plan – what action steps, benchmarks and measuring tools will be installed, to ensure that the new information/learning will be applied and monitored, and the new results/changes achieved?

    If trainers do not follow the cycle to completion after each Experience they initiate, their students are only partially learning. Thank you for the reminder.

    Great article!

    Reply
    • Dr. Kelly February 12, 2015, 6:11 pm

      Thank you for sharing your method, Nan! It is so learner-focused and effective. Where does the teaching happen re: your guidance and wisdom? Taking them to a new level?

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