Experiential learning focuses on the learning process for the individual. One example 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. Likewise, in business school, internship, and job-shadowing, opportunities in a student’s field of interest can provide valuable experiential learning which contributes significantly to the student’s overall understanding of the real-time environment.
A third example of experiential learning involves learning how to ride a bike, a process which can illustrate the four-step experiential learning model (ELM) as set forth by Kolb and outlined in Figure 1 below. Following this example, in the “concrete experience” stage, the learner physically experiences the bike in the “here-and-now”. This experience forms “the basis for observation and reflection” and the learner has the opportunity to consider what is working or failing (reflective observation), and to think about ways to improve on the next attempt made at riding (abstract conceptualization). Every new attempt to ride is informed by a cyclical pattern of previous experience, thought and reflection (active experimentation)
Experiential learning can exist without a teacher and relates solely to the meaning-making process individual’s direct experience. However, though the gaining of knowledge is an inherent process that occurs naturally, a genuine learning experience requires certain elements. According to Kolb, knowledge is continuously gained through both personal and environmental experiences. Kolb states that in order to gain genuine knowledge from an experience, the learner must have four abilities:
- The learner must be willing to be actively involved in the experience;
- The learner must be able to reflect on the experience;
- The learner must possess and use analytical skills to conceptualize the experience; and
- The learner must possess decision making and problem solving skills in order to use the new ideas gained from the experience.