This handbook and the Singapore Master Class will enable you to see new opportunities to unleash some of the more potent opportunities for learning through experience. In order to free the spirit of learning, whether it be in management education, corporate training, youth development work, therapy, higher education or life coaching, it is necessary to explore in much greater detail the interconnected nature of the learning ‘experience’.
Experiential learning was defined in the second edition book as a sense-making process of active engagement be tween the inner world of the person and the outer world of the environment. Here we introduce a balanced, connective approach to learning as:
a sense making process involving significant experiences that, to varying degrees, act as the source of learning. These experiences actively immerse and reflectively engage and the inner world of the learner, as a whole person (including physical-bodily, intellectually, emotionally and spiritually) with their intricate ‘outer world’ of the learning environment (including belonging and doing – in places, spaces, within social, cultural, political context etc) to create memorable, rich and effective experiences for and of learning (Beard, 2010: 17).
This is of course a very broad and rudimentary definition. Edward Cell in his book ‘Learning to Learn from Experience’, referred to a definition offered by Keeton and Tate way back in 1978. Cell was highlighting the differences between academic learning and experiential learning, and the definition quoted referred to experiential learning as:
Learning in which the learner is directly in touch with the realities being studied. It is contrasted with learning in which the learner only reads about, hears about, talks about, or writes about these realities but never comes into contact with them as part of the learning process. (Keeton & Tate, 1978, in Cell, 1984: viii).
Interestingly the Keeton and Tate text was titled ‘Learning by Experience – what, why and how’. The immersion in, and contact with, the experience is thus perceived as very important. The ‘experience’ takes centre stage: it is the foundation of, and the stimulus for, learning. This is the core argument in much theoretical work on experiential learning. That is why several core dimensions of the experience of learning form the focus of this book.
The book offers techniques that help learners make sense of their experience, as well as methods to develop and practise new behaviours. The techniques include mood setting, drama, creative writing, art, meditation, environmental modification and routine rituals. Much more detailed accounts covering over thirty practical experiences are found in the sister book The Experiential Learning Toolkit (Beard, 2010). We seek to help you as a coach, developer, educator or trainer, to focus on new ideas and we explore ways to improve professional practice and ethical responsibility through self-monitoring and feed back techniques. Many of the theories and practical methods presented in this book apply equally to providers and learners; indeed as practitioners, we too are learners, and good practice emanates from our ability to learn from our own experiences.
In building the model called the learning combination lock, we first explore simple dichotomies and the notion of balance in learning activities. In rejecting the classical dualisms we call for balance: of energy–tension, challenge–support, task–process, male–female, indoor–outdoor, natural–artificial environments and real–simulated activities. These themes illustrate some of the key factors that present countless oppor tunities in the design of experiential learning.
We develop many simple models that take the form of waves or circles, and these are important in our thinking throughout the book. Waves of energy underpin the daily experience and these waves of activity influence the basis of experiential programmes. We nurture and prepare people, energize and engage people, help to support, pro vide for or create their experience and then encourage relaxation. There are surface waves and deeper ones, short ones and long ones.
A novel can be likened to an ocean. The little waves we see lapping the shore are in fact carried on the waves that are nine ordinary waves long. These waves are themselves carried by waves that carry nine of them and these larger waves are similarly carried by waves that carry nine of them. Some waves in the ocean are miles long.
(Buzan, 2000: 200)
So let us now look at the learning combination lock as a new conceptual framework. For the first time ever, to our knowledge, all the core ingredients of the learning equation have been brought together in the learning combination lock. This model was initially theoretically grounded in a concept of cognitive processing, including contemporary theories of embodied cognition (linked with bodily learning) and embedded cognition (linked to the environment). Both are discussed in more detail later in the book. In the past, only some of the elements have been discussed in the literature, and then often in isolation, which therefore gives only a partial picture of human learning. The chapters that follow this one will address in sequence the tumblers (as key dimensions of learning) that make up the learning combination lock; however, we will briefly discuss each of these main categories here in order to provide an overview that will enable you to dip in and out of the book in order to find strategies and answers that apply to the circumstances in which you find yourself.
The learning combination lock in its elementary sense is based on the notion that the person interacts with the external environment through the senses. It is presented as a visual metaphor of six tumblers that represent the complexity of the many possible experiential choices. Beginning on the left of the learning combination lock, the first tumbler involves the question of where, and with whom? The environment consists of the people, place and space in which learning takes place, providing the location, external stimuli and ambience for the experience. The next tumbler represents the what of the experience; what is it that people are going to do? Many possible learning activities present themselves in practice, for example a journey or a challenge. The next group of tumblers are concerned with the how. How is the learning actually received? This tumbler represents the senses through which we receive the various forms of stimuli. The fourth tumbler involves engaging the emotions (heart) where we perceive, interpret and emotionally respond to the stimuli from the external environment; in other words we internalize the external learning ex perience. The fifth tumbler focuses on the scope and form of intelligence (mind). The final tumbler concerns change and transformation. Each of these six tumblers should inform practice: choices, and selection of other tumbler options, so as to avoid a random, one-armed bandit approach to selecting the possible components for experiential activities for learning.
As you read through the book, you may well identify new elements to add to the contents of individual tumblers, and perhaps even add completely new categories of tumblers. We strongly encourage you to create your own personalized learning combination lock to answer and respond to your own obstacles and challenges. Do consider attending the masterclass on Experiential learning in Singapore from Aug 11 to 12, e-mail your query or option to attend this session to email@example.com or call us at +65 6315 2587
Prof. Colin Beard, B.Sc, M.Ed and Phd