Preparing for Instructions 5 – Experiential Learning


This would be my last blog in a series of Preparing for Instructions for PIDP 3100. This has been an enlightening journey through the theories of adult learning, which actually helped me in realizing how much the knowledge and experience that we carry within ourselves can help in achieving and acquiring new knowledge.
Starting from the very beginning, it became clear to me that we (as educators and workplace trainers) rely on “experience” that adult learners have. The early theorists, Lewin, and Dewey, elaborated on the role of experience and created the learning models, which were later on improved by Kolb (who named this model the ‘Experiential Learning’), Jervis, and Fenwick (Meriam & Bierema, 2014).
Both of the early models have the similarities, as both start with the ‘Experience’ or ‘Impulse’, which in turn creates ‘Observation’ and ‘Reflection’. As a result, of the reflection, the new ‘abstract concepts’ or ‘Knowledge’ is created, thus allowing for ‘Testing new concept’ and/or ‘Judgment’ by putting together what was observed and what was recalled. The difference between the two models is in the presentation of the learning process since Dewey claims that the ‘Judgment stage determines if the new impulse will be created, thus creating a purpose of a learning process (Kolb, 1984).
Kolb (1984) claimed that learning is a continuous process which is grounded in experience. He also pointed out that there are two types of knowledge; social knowledge (based on objective experience), and personal knowledge (based on subjective experience). Kolb defined that the transaction between objective and subjective experiences leads to a learning process and knowledge creation “through the transformation of experience” (Kolb, 1984).
As I felt that there are numerous articles written about the experiential learning theory based on the works of Dewey, Lewin or Kolb, I thought I could try and find some of less known works. The authors (Dirkx and Lavin, 1991) of the linked article felt, however, that even though numerous researchers offered their viewpoint of the learning from experience based on both the individual or subjective experience and social or objective experience; they neglected to provide the explanation for the other ways of learning from the experience.
They, therefore, created a FOURthought model of experience-based learning, which is based on four fundamental ways of learning or thoughts about us and world around us, and also tried to explain how we as the educators should approach instructions (Dirkx & Lavin, 1991). The authors felt that the Fourthought model they created provided a more holistic approach to experiential learning as they added two new dimensions, namely creative expression and discernment.

So what are the models they described? They are summarized below:
1) Trial and error – according to the authors, the facilitators can learn from this method by randomly selecting an experiential activity to keep the group busy and, later on, realizing that the selected method either worked or did not work in the desired way.
2) Rationality/reflection – the emphasis for this view was on the role of rationality and systematic reflection in the process of learning from experience. It assumes that the learner has the “capacity to “step back” from his or her experience in order to reflect on and learn from it”. They do not, however, provide an input on how the facilitators or instructors can learn from this experience, but rather reflect on the works of above mentioned early theorists. This (understandably) implies that we, as the instructors, also need to rationally and systematically reflect on the experience we had in class and learn from it. This, in turn, allows for developing a “deeper understanding and meaning of particular aspects of our facilitating”.
3) Creative expression – the approach to teaching or instructing guided by our emotional dimensions and presents a way of our deeper self to communicate with the outside world. It is based on the storytelling and feeling and sense of ‘rightness’ about the work being performed (in the author’s case it was the place and activity of his writing). For the instructors, it means that the “creative expression helps us better understand ourselves and our worlds”.
4) Discernment – the approach to teaching or instructing this form of learning is to help adults understand and discern the symbolic meaning the particular outer events have on their inner lives. It is focused on emotional aspect and often uses journals writing and dialoguing with dreams and meditation. I have to admit, though, that I do not think I would ever use this in my facilitating :).
While I am positive I will never use some of the above-mentioned models, I also know that I will use some of them. For example, our recent training class on ‘Alignment of the Internal Quality Auditors’ (a.k.a IQAs) utilized the make-up stories to create the “cases”. The IQAs were asked to determine the severity of the non-conformance for each “case” and to classify them appropriately within the auditing report. It clearly required them to use “Rationality / Reflection” model. It is important to note that all of the IQA have to be very familiar with the requirements of the standard they are auditing against. The problem is that they review the process and the standard on the annual basis and use it only once a year. After the initial discussion and disagreements on the severity of the “cases”, the IQAs quickly realized that they need to utilize their experience from the daily work in order to reflect on the requirements of the audit. By stepping back and re-thinking each case, they were able to come to the proper conclusions and determine appropriate severities for each non-conformance.
One thing is clear, though. No matter what approach we select in facilitating the experiential learning (especially in a workplace), we need to be aware of who are the primary receivers of our instructions and what are we trying to achieve with our instructions. Only by being aware of these requirements we will be able to deliver the training at the appropriate level.



Dirkx, J. M., & Lavin, R. (1991). Understanding and facilitating experience-based learning in adult education: The FOURthought model. Paper presented at the Midwest Research-to-Practice Conference, October 3-4, St. Paul, MN. Retrieved on: 27-February-2016. From:
Kolb, D.A. (1984). The Process of Experiential Learning. Chapter 2. In D. Kolb, The experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. NJ: Prentice-Hall. Retrieved on: 26-February-2016. From:

Kolb, A. Y., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Learning styles and learning spaces: Enhancing experiential learning in higher education. Academy of Management Learning & Education, 4, 193-212. Retrieved on 26-February-2016. From:

Merriam, S. B. & Bierema, L. L. (2014). Adult learning. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons

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