Experiential learning was described as: ‘direct encounter with the phenomena being studied rather than merely thinking about the encounter, or only considering the possibility of doing something about it.’ (Borzak 1981: 9 quoted in Brookfield 1983). This is the way teaching medical skills is carried out. However, theoretical concepts and abstract notions are also integral part of all fields of education, including medical education. For example, a medical student need to comprehend the structure of a bacterium, without necessarily having to repeat all the experiments that constructed its structure, and view all its atoms under a scanning electron microscope. Providing experiential learning strategies for these abstractions can be tricky at first glance. However, simplifying the concept of experiential learning can aid in understanding its applications in real life settings. That is, experiential learning can start with applying knowledge into a student-centered event, or a problem-based learning activity, to transform the teaching methods from passive, to active, and thereby into experiential learning. The essential piece of the process, is to have the student become the centre of the education strategy used, whatever it was, so he/she experience a concrete experience!
In summary, below is a list of some strategies used in experiential learning:-
- Real-life encounters, training and exercises.
- Simulations and laboratory practicals.
- Community service learning.
- Work-integrated learning.
- Cooperative learning.
- Problem-based learning.
David A. Kolb book book entitled Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development (Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall, 1984) included an “Experiential Learning Cycle” which can be illustrated in the figure below:
At some level, all leaning is experiential. That is, the learner will experience a lecture, a laboratory exercise, or a model and after some reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and maybe some additional active experimentation, will understand its meaning, or parts thereof, with significant depth. The most important element for the success of this cycle is the “concrete experience” trigger. That is, if the lecture was boring or free from active engagement, it cannot be considered a concrete experience. However, attending an engaging lecture full with active participation and interactions between the lecturer and the audience is always, and rightly so, described by the attendees as a great experience. Therefore, having active and student-centered settings that allow the learners to immerse in relevant experiences is paramount to ensure good educational outcomes. Moreover, achieving this goal will also increase students’ satisfaction and enjoyment.