Learning is something that happens everyday of our lives. Most of us associate learning with formal education like English, Math, Science, and whatever other subjects that we are made to take in school. However, learning can take place through experiences as well, especially so for things like life skills, which may not be as effectively learnt by going through a lecture.

Life skills that we learn in our everyday lives can include things like learning how to become a better communicator, learning to become a better leader, learning how to better manage expectations etc. In a school context, these skills are developed as we interact with our teachers and peers, and as we are forced to put them into practice when we engage in things like group projects, or take on leadership positions.

Life skills are essential not only in a professional context, but can be applied in every area of our lives as well. Besides being useful for things like impressing potential employers at interviews, life skills are useful as well for situations like if you get into a disagreement with your friend and need to sort the matters out.

According to educational theorist David Kolb, “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” Learning through experiences actively involves the learner in a tangible experience that allows them to make meaning of whatever they go through, and therefore learn more effectively.

Following Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model, there are four key processes that we go through as we learn through experiences.

  1. Concrete Experience (Doing it)
  2. Reflective Observation
    • Learning is best facilitated by a process that draws out the individuals beliefs and ideas about a topic so that they can be examined, tested and integrated with new, more refined ideas
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation
    • analyse, make sense of what happened, moving back and forth between different ideas, actions, feelings and thinking, adapting
    •  assimilating the new experiences into existing concepts and accommodating existing concepts to new experiences
  4. Active Experimentation (Application)
    • must be capable of using the new ideas gained from the experience which helps you gain better understanding of the new knowledge and therefore retain the information better

Many a times we attend workshops and take down notes, believing that we have committed the new knowledge learnt to memory. It is quite likely that we probably will not remember the information in the long run, and that we will not go back and refer to the notes we have taken down either. However, if we learn through experience, the way the memory of what was learnt through that experience will be stored in our minds differently.

Imagine trying to understand the concept of resilience by reading about it, in comparison to having to physically experience a challenge and having to push yourself to get past it.

Which is more likely to help you learn better? Learning how to be a better speaker by taking down pointers from a powerpoint slide or spending time with someone who speaks to large crowds regularly?

The range of emotions and feelings that we go through as we learn from the experience is crucial, improving the likelihood of experiential learning occurring as we make meaning of our experiences.

However, it is important to note that individuals will have to go through all four key processes in order for the experiential learning to be effective, as Kolb “views learning as an integrated process with each stage being mutually supportive of and feeding into the next,” with the stages not being effective on their own.