You learn something new every day

Posted on February 12, 2013 by


Nikki LebedisFollowing on from our blog from Lynn the other week on learning new things, we are pleased to host our very first guest blog for 2013!

Nikki Lebedis, owner of the people development consultancy, Lebedis Ltd, joins us to discuss ‘Experiential Learning’.

As the old adage goes, ‘you learn something new every day’ and Nikki’s blog is a very interesting and useful read for those who are looking to make the most of learning from experience.

As someone who has fallen over a lot when trying new things, I thought I’d follow Lynn’s ski-ing blog post from earlier in the month with a short piece on Experiential Learning and how it can help our personal development.

I spend my working life delivering programmes and workshops based on an experiential learning model. Quite often I’m asked what this means, and the answer is really simple: it’s “Learning Through Doing”. Now, it’s worth pointing out that “learning through doing” is not the same as just “doing”. Experiential learning is not equal to experience.

We all have experiences all the time. We usually notice if these experiences are pleasant, comfortable, rewarding, interesting or enjoyable. We always notice when it’s stressful, uncomfortable, miserable, or utterly tedious. The question is, what do we do with these feelings?

With a bit of help, and a bit of practice, we can make meaning from them which in turn help us learn.

David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory is the accepted model for this style of learning, and anyone wanting to learn more should Google him as a first stop. His work describes a fairly in depth cycle, and I’ll give you my simplified interpretation here.

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle

Simply put, you have an experience, you reflect on it, make meaning out of your feelings, then experiment with different ways of tackling the situation next time it occurs. Remember that feelings could be good or bad, and reinforcement of good outcomes is as important as correcting bad ones.

The stages break down as follows:

Have an experience: This could be very deliberately planned, or something that has just been part of your day-to-day life.

Reflect on it: Objectively consider what happened. Not from your perspective, but rather as an onlooker watching a play unfold. What were the key events? What led up to it?

Narrate the story of the event to yourself. It is the steps around reflecting and making meaning that moves experience to learning. Don’t underestimate how hard it can be to reflect. This isn’t about punishing self-analysis, or a shrug of the shoulders before piling forward to the next action.

It takes real-time to sit down and think about what has happened to you in an open and objective way.

Make meaning out of it: Very simply, think about how it made you feel both physically and emotionally. What effect did the experience have on you? Why was that? What was the trigger? What was the exact moment the you started to feel that way?

Create new actions: And finally, what different action could you take to either stop those feelings happening again, or – if it was a great experience – ensuring it happens as often as possible? Could you eliminate the trigger? Or change how you react to it? Or pre-empt the situation? Or do it all again? There are limitless options!

Once you have that different action you’ve come full cycle. I prefer to think of it more as a left-to-right spiral than a cycle, as the whole thing moves forward every time you change your actions. It’s not a wheel spinning on ice – there is always forward movement in your own learning each time you complete a cycle.

The cycle is scalable and can be used in a number of situations and contexts. For example, if I’m running a workshop I’ll introduce a model or theory, then get participants to work through it (have an experience), discuss that experience (reflect on it), consider how it affects them in their work (make meaning) and then report back (new actions) in a group session.

If it helps to visualise it, think back again to Lynn’s blog on learning to ski. She has the experience of being out on the slopes, then the physical and emotional feedback (observation) as she tries her latest new action. It might go well with her flying down the piste, or not so well with a fall. With a bit of reflection, and maybe some input from her instructor, she figures out what she did to get it right or wrong, and plans her next action for the next piste.

Sitting along with all of this is the motivation to learn more brought on by developing her new skill and the encouragement of her friends and fellow learners for support.

So that’s my whistle-stop tour of experiential learning. Thanks to Lynn for giving me such a great example to work with!

A little about Nikki

Nikki is the owner of the people development consultancy Lebedis Ltd. She specialises in experiential learning, with a particular interest in cross-peer and cross-culture support. Nikki works with people from all walks of life, from student to CEO, believing that diversity in context and perspective is essential. With adventure, remote travel and outdoors experience, she often incorporates this in the design of explicit learning vehicles in her programmes.

About Lebedis Ltd

Lebedis Ltd is a people development consultancy delivering highly interactive development programmes ranging from Bitesize taster sessions through to residential expeditions. They work with organisations and individuals from the corporate, education and voluntary sectors.