Alex Mancoll: The Kolb process, and the advantages of experiential learning

When I was little, I always performed best in my science classes because they were the most hands on, and as I transitioned into high school I was fortunate enough to attend a school that offered one of the best experiential learning programs in the country. I had various opportunities to go to many foreign countries to participate in service and take classes through my high school. I also was able to participate in an internship at my local hospital, which fueled my curiosity to further explore a career in medicine. For example my high school biology, anatomy, and chemistry class provided me with the basic foundation for a pre-medicine track, but my 12th grade internship at a hospital truly sparked my passion to pursue a career in medicine.  I personally feel like I have gained more from the few weeks that I spent in each activity than I have in my conventional learning throughout high school.

One of the leading academics in the field of psychology, David Kolb, proposed a theory on experiential learning in the late 1900s. Kolb states that his process of experiential learning includes four steps: Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation. These steps as defined by Kolb’s theory create a superior learning style as opposed to conventional learning. Unintentionally, I experienced the Kolb process through my internship and travels: reflecting on my experiences, conceptualizing my findings, and experimenting with the information I gained. During my internship at the hospital, I went through these processes, which helped to benefit my character, my knowledge base, and my overall learning experience greatly. These experiences allow students, like me, to be able to grow in ways not possible through conventional learning. Conventional learning excels at teaching base knowledge and core concepts. However, it can not compare to the real world understanding and personal growth, which can result from experiential learning, as many experts in the field have confirmed.

With this being said, I think that experiential learning is best suited for high school students who want to gain a better understanding on a topic they are interested in, as it allows students discover their occupational interests.

One expert named Andrew H. Potter, a chief academic officer at a leading college and career prep organization, co-wrote a post titled “The Benefits of Experiential Learning”, which  stated that “The act of doing makes learning extremely personal”. His post explains that the use of experiential learning to complement conventional learning has many benefits over the exclusive use of conventional learning including “increased applicability to the real world, opportunity for creativity and reflection, ability to turn mistakes into lessons, facilitation of accelerated learning, improved moral and approach to learning, as well as potentially more career oriented learning”.

Another academic named Audre Lorde, a writer who delivered her paper at the Modern Language Association’s “Lesbian and Literature Panel” in Chicago, Illinois in 1977, argues that, in order to live life to its fullest self, one must speak up to tell one’s own truths.  More specifically, she writes that, the transformation of silence into language and action is an act of self-revelation”.  This is applicable to experiential learning because the process of experiential learning is the process of transforming a silent action or experience into a tangible lesson in order to come to a revelation about one’s self and their surrounding. This leaves the student with an academic impact that is not possible through convention learning. In a conventional learning setting, students are fed information without the chance to form their own opinions on the subject.  However, in an experiential learning setting, students construct their own views on subjects by having real world experiences.  This gives students a chance to speak up and experience their own acts of self revelation as their real-world simulations and activities give them the opportunity to.  Essentially, then, this is what makes experiential learning so special.

Conventional learning definitely has its place. However, experiential learning has many benefits that reach beyond the limitations of conventional learning. It allows for a certain level of depth in education that is just not possible through conventional learning.