Sunday, August 8, 2010

The value of experiential learning

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.

Classroom learning
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?

Emerging framework
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
http://www.flickr.com/photos/27182790@N05/2537665641

12 comments:

Coach said...

Absolutely delighted that we can enjoy experiential learning with you Sarah, this inspires and empowers me; and I am sure it does for others. CC

willie campbell said...

sarah
I do think that learning from exeprience is just that- doing something and either reflecting on it,as you encourage us to do, or simply practice in a more action oriented way.
The level of support for such exeprience will vary. If you think of a young child learning to ride a two-wheeler cycle, we don't just put them of on the bike and push them into motion. we may have trainer outrider wheels that assist balance, or an adult might run beside the bike as the balance develops. the secret is in watching the cues for success and slowly back off bnd gradually extinguish the cues and supports.
The deep end isn't really an option unless we have floater supports I don't think.

Claire Thompson said...

Sarah, I think that the approach you have taken has been wonderful. Those of us who did not moderate the session with Terry Neal learned a lot from seeing how Chris and Jillian handled things. I was just there for the first half (and haven't watched the rest of the recording yet), but the obvious preparation they had done and the way they outlined their roles and the format at the beginning of the session was great. When you jumped in when there was the audio problem and explained what you did and why--that was a perfect learning moment for all of us. So that session provided two simultaneous learning experiences:
1. learning from Terry and being able to discuss ideas with her
2. learning from how Chris and Jillian facilitated the session

mstephens said...

One of the key themes that has emerged from my research study exploring the experience of living with myeloma, is 'knowledge work' as a subtheme of work.And, where this is relevant to this discussion, what participants did as they became experts in living with the effects of myeloma was to synthesise knowledge. Their knowledge and learning came from 3 key sources; biomedical science;lay/not-for-profit/support information and; experiential learning. Participants talked about how they synthesised this 3 sources of learning but the experiential learning, their learning by doing, informed by the science and support information, was the most influencial and gave context and understanding to them. Being a longitudinal study I was able to see the synthesis - let me give you an exapmle. 'Fred' loved gardening - he first told me that the dr had told him not garden energetically nor lift heavy objects etc. In our 2nd interview, Fred told me how he had learned to bed down rather than sit on his haunches to weed and to only do so for a short period, so more informed by his experiential learning. At out 3rd meeting, Fred told me how he had some fractured ribs (as he had sighted on his xray) and explained how he synthesised his experiential learning with the pathological/scientific information from his xray to work out how he could continue to garden in a different way.This may seem a bit of a stretch but I think that experiential learning contextualizes information and, more importantly, understanding within our own trajectories of lifelong learning.

Sarah Stewart said...

Thank you all for your comments. I've just come away from Monday's live session when Peter facilitated. He was completely new to Elluminate so had an interesting experience. But he would not have been able to do it without the safety net of working with Coach Carole. So I guess it is getting a balance between deep end stuff and a floatation aid.

Mark Spain said...

I think that experiential learning involves stepping into the unknown but with a framework in place for constructing one's own knowledge map as the learning experience plays out. The host/facilitator of the learning experience provides a "safe" but challenging learning environment. Learners have different thresholds of what is safe and what is challenging so that need to be able to chose their own level of challenge and safety net.

Sarah Stewart said...

Reply from Jillian Clarke:

Having the benefit of hind sight, I think it was great to have this trial run so early in the course for a few reasons:
1. The safety net that having you and Chris (A more experienced Elluminate user) there during the session, allowed me to push myself a little more because I knew if I stuffed up / made mistakes or didn't know how to fix some technical issue, you would be there to help me. That provides a great platform for experimental learning. The same way I learnt / experimented or gained experience in midwifery when I was newly registered. I began working in a regional birth suite that had a lot of very experienced staff. This provided a safety net for experimental learning that enabled me to take risks in my practice that I would not have taken had I been on my own. By risks I mean, I was not as conservative in my practice, I stretched my self more and backed my own judgment more as apposed to doubting myself and my ability.
2. It has given me confidence for my mini conference assignment which I think is great. It would be a bit scary going into that event for the first time on my own.
3. The facilitation experience was not too different from facilitating a class environment, except for the technical side of Elluminate and my inability to see my participants. This heightened my awareness of their tone, volume and speed of their voices as well as the typed responses I could see. I find in a class room environment I watch body language, eyes, voice and posture and have the added bonus of interpreting understanding through questioning. I was very aware of time running out on us on Monday and so I think if I had my time again, I would maybe be bit a little more relaxed and really listen to the questions asked and be better able to summarize at the end. I would have written down the questions as they were asked instead of madly trying to think about them at the end. The summarising was a complete spur of the moment thing, as I had not written it in my plan of things to do - not sure why as I always do this in a classroom environment. However I felt as the session was coming to an end, it needed to be brought together in a summary - probably more the teacher in me than anything else.
Regards Jillian

Sarah Stewart said...

Jillian Clarke wrote:

Having the benefit of hind sight, I think it was great to have this trial run so early in the course for a few reasons:
1. The safety net that having you and Chris (A more experienced Elluminate user) there during the session, allowed me to push myself a little more because I knew if I stuffed up / made mistakes or didn't know how to fix some technical issue, you would be there to help me. That provides a great platform for experimental learning. The same way I learnt / experimented or gained experience in midwifery when I was newly registered. I began working in a regional birth suite that had a lot of very experienced staff. This provided a safety net for experimental learning that enabled me to take risks in my practice that I would not have taken had I been on my own. By risks I mean, I was not as conservative in my practice, I stretched my self more and backed my own judgment more as apposed to doubting myself and my ability.
2. It has given me confidence for my mini conference assignment which I think is great. It would be a bit scary going into that event for the first time on my own.
3. The facilitation experience was not too different from facilitating a class environment, except for the technical side of Elluminate and my inability to see my participants. This heightened my awareness of their tone, volume and speed of their voices as well as the typed responses I could see. I find in a class room environment I watch body language, eyes, voice and posture and have the added bonus of interpreting understanding through questioning. I was very aware of time running out on us on Monday and so I think if I had my time again, I would maybe be bit a little more relaxed and really listen to the questions asked and be better able to summarize at the end. I would have written down the questions as they were asked instead of madly trying to think about them at the end. The summarising was a complete spur of the moment thing, as I had not written it in my plan of things to do - not sure why as I always do this in a classroom environment. However I felt as the session was coming to an end, it needed to be brought together in a summary - probably more the teacher in me than anything else.
Regards Jillian

Ray Tolley said...

Hi Sarah,
I think that this post answers itself. Experiential learning is not just 'learning from experience' - it is about having time to reflect and benefit from the ideas and opinions of others. In listening to others we can either add to our own body of knowledge and understanding or we can use others' contributions to either to reinforce or challenge previously held ideas.

Obviously a blog like this helps us document and share our experiential learning but an ePortfolio further helps us to organise or 'curate' our total learning in such a way as to be an invaluable store of artefacts when it comes to needing to draw on evidences or learning.

BW
Ray T

Sarah Stewart said...

hi Ray, thanks for the comment. Yes...reflection is a vital part of the experiential learning. How can that can be facilitated at a group level in an ePortfolio?

LaDonna Coy said...

Hi Sarah and all -- really great summary and responses, so sorry to have missed the sessions and now playing catch up. One thing that strikes me as I've been reading along is loving this notion of experiential learning meaning have the experience, reflect on it then let the plans (models) emerge.

Our usual way is to plan, then act, and finally reflect but it is so much better to act, reflect plan -- it gives us a real world experience we can use to loop back and ground the theory later. So much to think about and apply. Thank you.

Sarah Stewart said...

@LaDonna I'm wondering if we should start this course with the mini event and then go to the theory...would do you think of that as an idea?