Gigi Woodall: Experiential Learning Isn’t So Special to Everyone

One of my closest friends from high school is brilliant – she now attends UCLA as an engineering major.  Even in her weakest subjects (English and history) she worked almost effortlessly to achieve A’s.  However, once she was put in front of a classroom to give a presentation, or even read a passage aloud, her face would turn bright red, her teeth would chatter from nerves, and her palms would profusely sweat.  This does not mean that she will be any less successful than the next student who attends college, but rather that a conventional, lecture-style classroom setting is more suitable for her personality.

Experiential learning isn’t so special to everyone.  In fact, I think that placing a shyer or less talkative student in an environment with outgoing, creative personalities can cause the introverted student to become more insecure in his/her studies.  The case of my very smart friend from high school is a perfect example of how some forms of teaching can be detrimental to a student’s confidence, as well as grades.  If she had been in a classroom where grades were based on creativity, presentations, and discussions, her high school career would not have been as successful, let alone her college career.

So why, precisely, do I believe that experiential learning can only benefit specific types of people?  To start, I read the research essay “Diversifying Learning Opportunities: A Response to the Problems of Mass Education,” written by Paul J. Parker at Illinois State University, who asked nearly six hundred students whether they’d want to enroll in either a conventional lecture style class, an experiential learning class, or a discussion based class.  Eighty-five percent of the students ended up picking a conventional classroom setting.  I think part of this decision was based on the students choosing what they already felt comfortable with.  Because most classroom/learning settings are conventional, most students have already had exposure to this type of learning and, if they have achieved good grades in the past, are most likely not going to decide to go a different route.  

Actually, this isn’t necessarily true.  Although some students might have chosen the conventional classroom setting because it’s what they’re used to, the majority of students who chose the conventional classes had higher scores on Rotter’s External Control Scale and high personality scores for order, social recognition, and harm avoidance.  On the other hand, students in the experiential and discussion-based classes were proven to have high personality scores for achievement, autonomy, cognitive structure, and understanding.  Factors that went into account for the students choices were sex, basic personality predispositions, classroom expectations, field of study, and the students’ attitudes and values.  This shows how different types of personalities and environmental factors of students can determine whether conventional or experiential learning is most beneficial for the student.

Before a school decides to implement experiential learning in all classrooms, they should think how it will affect a student’s grades, self-confidence, and overall success.  If they used my brainiac friend to study the effects of experiential learning, I can promise you there’s no way they would think experiential learning has positive results for growth and experience.  Therefore, experiential learning is only so special to certain types of people.  As research shows, experiential learning is not for everyone.  When teachers and universities decide how they’re going to construct their classroom setting, they should consider all types of personalities and environmental factors that account for student success.