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Experiential learning in school education

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 highlights that in all stages, experiential learning will be adopted,

school education

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  12 Nov 2020 3:35 AM GMT

Dr. N.K. Dutta

(The writer is Founder & Principal,

Miles Bronson Residential School, Borjhar, Guwahati. He can be reached at principal@mbrs.edu.in)

The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 highlights that in all stages, experiential learning will be adopted, including hands-on learning, arts-integrated and sports-integrated education, story-telling-based pedagogy, among others, as standard pedagogy within each subject, and with explorations of relations among different subjects. Today experiential learning has become an essential method in all innovative pedagogical practices as it holistically strives to shift the child from rote learning and memorization to learning by doing through experience and activity. This gains utmost importance in the context of the demands of now and the future in the wake of sweeping changes due to technological revolution. The world has changed rapidly; robotics, artificial intelligence, data science, internet of things, zenomics, mobile computing, crowd sourcing, autonomous vehicles, virtual reality to name a few are impacting very fast on every aspects of life. Richard Riley has said that "We need to prepare students for jobs that don't yet exist, to use technologies that haven't been invented in order to solve problems we don't know our problems yet."

In order to live up to these changes education needs to focus more on learning which is experimental, expeditional and experiential than being just limited to the traditional methods of knowledge gathering and knowledge transmission. In order to meet the demands of the world that has changed education from the foundational years should provide knowledge, understanding and skills to develop qualities of creativity, critical thinking, communication, leadership, decision making, self-regulation and problem solving skills among the children. In this context the emphasis of the NEP to move towards an experiential methodology of learning in schools is a positive step in this direction.

Defining experiential learning:

Experiential learning focuses on practical application of knowledge and skills to real-world experiences to further increase learner's knowledge and develop competence in skills and behaviours. It is effectively used in schools, higher education, therapy, corporate training and other areas for educational learning, personal development and skills building. According to the Association for Experiential Education, experiential learning can be summed up in the phrase "challenge and experience followed by reflection and application leading to learning and growth". UNESCO defines, 'experiential learning is a process that develops knowledge, skills and attitudes based on consciously thinking about an experience. Thus, it involves direct and active personal experience combined with reflection and feedback'. The term experiential learning reflects participation of individuals out of their own experiences and sharing. It is the process of learning through experience and more specifically defined as 'learning through reflection on doing'. Its objective is to achieve better skills, better knowledge and wider perception by a learner.

It is a methodology of teaching-learning which has evolved from the ancient times. Aristotle wrote that "for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them". Education reformer John Dewey who is also regarded as the modern father of experiential education is often seen as the proponent of learning by doing rather than learning by passively receiving. He suggested that one's present experiences are a direct result of how their previous experiences interrupt and influence the present situations. Psychologist Kurt Lewin developed the cornerstone models for understanding organizational change in which he depicts three stages in the process of change: unfreeze – change – refreeze. Clinical psychologist Jean Piaget known for his pioneering work in child development believed that the principal goal of education in schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done but people who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered. He also quoted that 'Intelligence is what you use when you don't know what to do'. He proposed the concept of Cognitive Development which explains how a child constructs a mental model of the world. According to him, intelligence was never a fixed trait rather this cognitive development is a process which takes place due to the biological maturity and interaction with the environment.

Psychologist and Education theorist David Kolb had interest in the nature of individual and social change, experiential learning, career development and professional education. His model of experiential learning is about a Learning Style Inventory which is great interest and of implementation to pace learning as a tool. Activating mainly on Concrete Experience, followed by Reflective Observation, paving way to Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation.

Pedagogy through experiential learning:

Experiential learning has significant teacher advantages. Educationist Peter Senge in his popular work The Fifth Discipline states that learning only has good effects when learners have the desire to absorb the knowledge. Therefore, experiential learning required the showing of directions for learners. Experiential learning entails a hands-on approach to learning that moves away from just the teacher in front of the room imparting and transferring their knowledge to students. It makes learning an experience that moves beyond the classroom and strives to bring a more involved way of learning. Experiential learning focuses on the learning process for the individual. One example commonly given of experiential learning is going to the zoo and learning through observation and interaction with the zoo environment, as opposed to reading about animals from a book. Thus, one makes discoveries and experiments with knowledge firsthand, instead of hearing or reading about others' experiences.

How do we implement experiential learning? Humanistic Psychologist Carl Rogers distinguish two types of learning – cognitive (meaningless) and experiential (significant). He added that for a person to 'grow' they need an environment that provides them with genuineness (openness and self disclosure), acceptance (being seen with unconditional positive regard), and empathy (be listen to and understood). Without this, relationships and healthy personalities will not develop as they show much like a tree cannot grow without sunlight and water. The former corresponds to academic knowledge such as learning vocabulary or multiplication tables and the latter refers to applied knowledge such as learning about engines in order to repair a car. The key to the distinction is that experiential learning addresses the needs and wants of the learner. Rogers lists these qualities of experiential learning: personal involvement, self-initiated, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effects on learner. To Rogers, experiential learning is equivalent to personal change and growth. Rogers feels that all human beings have a natural propensity to learn; the role of the teacher is to facilitate such learning. This includes: (i) setting a positive climate for learning, (ii) clarifying the purposes of the learner (iii) organizing and making available learning resources (iv) balancing intellectual and emotional components of learning, and (v) sharing feelings and thoughts with learners but not dominating.

The ingredients of experiential learning are in the order of explore, experience and enjoy. Explore, as the world signifies, targets the interest of the student to be kindled. Their curiosity is fully aroused and they are bound to tend to seek and explore the subject that they love and learn with pride. Experience, as the part of face to face scenario deals actively with the hands on activity and involvement in class as a means by which their attention is held and they experience learning that stage with them forever. Enjoy, the factor of joy, is activated with the learning to be fun with the period of time. The students should never feel burdened and must tend to enjoy the classroom learning with an open mind to its wonders.

Experiential learning in holistic education:

While encompassing scholastic and co-scholastic areas NEP 2020 points out that as a part of the thrust on experiential learning, art-integrated education will be embedded in classroom transactions not only for creating joyful classrooms, but also for imbibing the Indian ethos through integration of Indian art and culture in the teaching and learning process at every level. This art-integrated approach will strengthen the linkages between education and culture. Sports-integration is another cross-curricular pedagogical approach that utilizes physical activities, including indigenous sports, in pedagogical practices to help in developing skills such as collaboration, self-initiative, self-direction, self-discipline, teamwork, responsibility, citizenship, etc. Sports-integrated learning will be undertaken in classroom transactions to help students adopt fitness as a lifelong attitude and to achieve the related life skills along with the levels of fitness as envisaged in the Fit India Movement. The need to integrate sports in education is well recognized as it serves to foster holistic development by promoting physical and psychological well-being while also enhancing cognitive abilities.

This reformative measure underscores the change from traditional 'chalk-and-talk' method to innovative 'learning by doing through reflection'. It is urged that this reform is needed for bringing about a competency based education system by developing the three aspects of knowledge, skill and abilities. To achieve such a goal much is needed to be done towards developing strategies and programmes for empowering training teachers from that a 'dispenser of knowledge' to a 'felicitator of learning'. In this context the NEP recommends major reforms in which the training of teachers and teachers' education is vital in creating a pool of schoolteachers that will shape the next generation. These recommendations are thought provoking and farsighted and are essential ingredients for creating a holistic and skill-based education for 21st century and beyond; but the 'key' lies in its effective implementation.

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