One of the things I've been trying to sort out in my head is how you define experiential learning. Until recently I thought of it as the learning students do when they are out on a placement...for example...when a student midwife is working with a midwife on a maternity unit.
What I have come to realise is that experiential learning is more than that...it is bound up with the activities that teachers embed in their teaching. You can have an experience and learn from it...in the classroom...as well as out in the world. The challenge for us as teachers and facilitators is to design authentic activities in a way that students feel safe and supported, but have learning outcomes for students.
Learning about online facilitation
I am currently facilitating the online course "Facilitating Online". A large part of the learning of the course is the facilitation of an event. Historically, this has been at the end of the course. Participants have really benefited from the experience but it is always chaotic and quite traumatic for some people. And I have always thought that it is a shame that the course ends with this experience. I am of the opinion that it would be more empowering if participants get the traumatic stuff out of the way as they go along, and end the course on a confident and competent note.
Learning as we go along
The value of experiential learning within a program was brought home to me on Friday. Two of the course participants, Chris and Jillian facilitated this week's live session. The session had a few hiccups so I was able to explain both to them and the rest of the group how to solve them. We were able to learn about facilitation by watching what Chris and Jillian did. And were able to learn from their reflections of how things went and the tips they have developed.
What goes on unseen
The other thing I did, which was a spur of the moment thought, was to make a few of the others 'staff members' in Elluminate so they could see what was going on behind the scenes. This may have been a little off-putting for Chris and Jillian but I think it was fabulous learning for the others. I think I'll do this every week.
What I learned
It was important for me to pay attention so I could help Chris and Jillian when they didn't know what to do. And it was really hard for me to sit on my hands and not interfere. But Chris and Jillian brought home to me how important it is to be organised and professional in your approach to facilitating online live sessions.
Chicken and egg
But I have been left with a question to ponder by Carole McCulloch who asked in a course email if I had a framework for scaffolding students into facilitating of live sessions. The course is a framework for online facilitation but isn't complete until the end of the course. So in effect I have thrown participants in the deep end before the theory. I feel it's a bit of a 'chicken and egg' scenario - what comes first...the practice or the theory?
What I see happening is a framework emerging from the participants, from their experiences and reflections of worked and what did not work.
What is your experience of experiential learning, both as student and teacher? What do you think about an emerging framework developed from students' experiences? Is it fair to drop students in the deep-end like this and expect them to develop their own framework? How can I support participants' so they learn as they go along but are well scaffolded as they go?
Image: 'Working' atsitra