Brain with arrows coming out of it with the words Experiential Learning Theory

Experiential Learning Theory

My blog has always been one of reflection. I often advocate for teachers and the hard work they put in. I try to highlight the similarities between teaching and instructional design, but this week I had a breakthrough. In classrooms, we are told what strategies and theories to use, these are often provided by the “latest” research, curriculum or a book your principal happened to read.  As teachers, we go all in, we read the books, research the theory, and put it into practice. Hattie’s work on visual learning was HUGE in my school district before I left, we were receiving training, books, and more but it was only ONE theory.    

     As I have been reflecting on what we have learned so far, I started to realize my own biases. Before today I would tell you that there are just some good teaching practices and some bad.  Being neurodivergent I often think in black and white, but learning is not black and white, corporate performance issues are not black and white!  So where am I going with this? Each learning theory I have discussed is built to tackle different learning topics or audiences, it’s not a one size fits all nor should it lend to a specific preference.  When designing learning experiences you must take a step back from your preferences and look at what the goal of the course is and find the appropriate learning theory to support this. 

It may not seem like a big deal to some, but this adds an additional step to my design process and something I have been missing for a while.  To transition, last week we discussed transformative learning theory which promotes transformative change, and community building and provides a fantastic framework for tackling hard to discuss topics.  This week we will be reviewing experiential learning, at its core is learner experience, whether that is leveraging past experiences or working through current experiences with practice and mentoring.  Experiential learning is great for job processes that may need modeling and cognitive guidance, I will expand on the strategies below. (Merriam & Bierema, 2013 pg 108)

Reflective Practice

Personally, I love the science behind learning. It’s fascinating to me how the brain works and the impact simple things like reflection can have.  Reflective practice is a strategy that can be used before, during, and after a learning experience.  This practice is something I would encourage no matter what learning theory you are using and it is crucial as IDs to include this in our professional practice. 

Recently I finished a large learning project, it spanned several months and it was a highly anticipated course.  It was also one of my first at my current employer, coming from teaching where you are often “thinking on your feet” I employ what our texts call ‘reflection-in-action’ a lot. Meaning I think about what I am doing, reflect on what I could do differently/better, and then institute those changes in live time. However, without communicating those to my team it may not seem like I learned anything from the deployment. In comes post-mortem reviews! 

The post-mortem review allows me an avenue to not only reflect and adjust but communicate to my team what was my success and areas of improvement.  Smartsheet listed some of the benefits of a post-mortem as; streamlining workflows, fostering team collaboration, improving efficiency, celebrating success, and learning from mistakes.  I have sent out surveys to all of the stakeholders and will be reviewing my process from their eyes. I am also preparing a document that will discuss my reflections and suggestions for future projects.  

Situated Cognition

Situated cognition is the idea that where we learn is significant, Merriam & Bierema mention research by Jean Lave who asked study participants to figure out what items in a store were “best buys” some participants were allowed into the store and able to see the aisles and communicate with the community within the store. (2013)  Others were asked to figure out based on paper and pencil via looking at sales, costs, etc. Lave found that those who were inside the store obtained the correct answer with 98% while paper and pencil participants scored 59% (p. 118).   This idea of situated cognition makes clear the impact of “context and social interaction” on learning versus thinking all learning happens within the brain. 

Cognitive apprenticeship is a great example of this, not only is the mentor demonstrating what they are doing but also walking their apprentice through what is happening cognitively.  This is used in tandem with faded support, meaning that as the apprentice gains ability and knowledge, the master teacher fades out their support. One very useful tool when designing this would be to look at the prompt hierarchy which was designed for students with autism but very helpful when thinking about the support we provide to learners.  Prompt hierarchy is a spectrum of prompts starting at restrictive or less independent up to more independent. It starts with full physical (guiding the person, potentially hand over hand) then partial physical, maybe the learner just needs their hand placed on the right lever, next is modeling, then verbal prompts such as “Don’t forget” or “Look at the symbol on the screen”, next is gestural which would be pointing to the correct lever and last would be visual, we see this every time we go to the bathroom at a restaurant and there is a visual prompt for workers to wash their hands.      

Community of Practice

Community of practice is a strategy that is used to bring together learners of varied experiences for the purpose of growing on a specific topic.  This is one I use on a daily basis, I am a part of Reddit and many discord channels which have brought together a lot of different people together for one common purpose, to learn more about video games, share and answer questions about video games, and other topics.  Not only do those new to the topic learn, but those who are teaching others are also growing in proficiency.

At my organization, we use Slack, which is a secure web-based messaging platform, it allows employees to create their own channels, join channels of interest and interact with their department.  Working at such a large organization there is a channel for literally any topic, profession, community, and more. These channels are hosted by departments to support others using tools or on specific topics like security.  It brings together employees from all different walks of life, and experiences and promotes learning.  It has been one of my favorite features and has been crucial in my growth within my current company. 

Conclusion

Whenever I was asked what was the most important trait for a teacher to possess, I almost always included reflection. It was a crucial part of my practice then and it is still just as important within the instructional design.  My hope is that sharing my own revelation on learning theories will proactively help a transitioning teacher, research learning theories, and gather more tools for that toolbox! 

Have you ever heard of a prompt hierarchy? Do you think it would be useful within the adult learning space? Let me know by leaving a comment below!


References

Guide to Post-Mortem in Business | Smartsheet. (n.d.). Retrieved March 17, 2022, from https://www.smartsheet.com/content/business-post-mortem

Learning by teaching others is extremely effective – a new study tested a key reason why. (2018, May 4). Research Digest. https://digest.bps.org.uk/2018/05/04/learning-by-teaching-others-is-extremely-effective-a-new-study-tested-a-key-reason-why/

Merriam, S. B., & Bierema, L. L. (2013). Adult Learning: Linking Theory and Practice. John Wiley & Sons, Incorporated. http://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/boisestate/detail.action?docID=1376941Steps for Implementation: Least-to-Most Prompts. (n.d.). Autism Spectrum Disorders, 13. Retrieved March 18, 2022, from https://autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/sites/autismpdc.fpg.unc.edu/files/Prompting_Steps-Least.pdf

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