Experiential Learning: What’s That?

By Ahmed Wafi

Could this be the best way to pick up new skills?

In short, yes. As Albert Einstein once said, “Learning is an experience and everything else is just information.”

By that definition, everything you read and learn in school is merely just information. The only time you actually pick up new skills is when you’re performing the task you were informed about. Example: You read about baking a cake and you know the ingredients, how long it should be in the oven for, the right temperature and all but you won’t know how to bake a cake until you actually do it!

The dictionary definition of experiential learning (ExL) is the act of learning through performing tasks or more accurately, the act of learning through a reflection of doing.

To get a clearer picture of what ExL really is and how it works, we spoke to Dr. Yu Yong Poh, Lead Trainer of the Data Track at airasia academy (formerly known as Redbeat Academy). His definition of ExL matches that of the above which is “the process of learning through experience. Hands-on learning is one of the most common examples of experiential learning. Some other examples are group work in and out of the classroom, open ended discussion activities, active and open-ended questioning guidance.”

He suggests that in formal settings, student-centred learning approaches are the way to go and that the role of the trainer/teacher is mainly to facilitate. He also notes that the facilitator’s role is far more important than one might think. It’s not just about teaching, grading and handing out assignments but about creating a balance between ExL and the education of concepts and theories, engaging pupils through case studies, presentations and coursework which also promotes soft skill development!

He also notes the importance of incorporating a variety of ExL activities into the respective courses. For instance, using real-life data sets and case studies for data analytics courses.

So now we know what ExL is all about. How can we benefit from it? Dr. Yu listed the following points that talent will gain which is bound to grow one’s professional skills.

  • Creativity and innovation – Participants have more flexibility and chances to make their own judgements.
  • Learning from mistakes – Ask anyone and they’ll tell you mistakes are the best teachers. Through case studies and capstone projects, students will be able to try, fail and learn from the failures.
  • Teamwork – Because how many job vacancies want you to be ‘able to work in a team’?

At airasia academy, students can look forward to capstone projects that are tailored to their backgrounds and interests. Facilitators encourage participants to have team members from different disciplines to ensure maximum exposure to real-life working experiences. Talk about reinventing formal education!

As lovely as ExL might sound, there will always be barriers to achieve the best form of it. Unless you’re attached to an institution like airasia academy, there might not be someone to tell you if you’re doing something wrong (or right!), nor will you be able to receive feedback on your progress.

Dr. Yu also believes that embarking on this experience can prove to be quite burdensome and time consuming. The fruits you bear from this however, make it worthwhile.

Here are a few ways you can learn experientially!

  • Internships or job attachments (ideally to be about two months for working professionals and three to six months for undergraduates)
  • Lab studies (for science-based learning)
  • Case studies
  • Independent research beyond the classroom

What’s important in ExL is for you to take the initiative to go out there and get your hands dirty! (But don't forget to sanitize after!) Dr. Yu left us with one last quote from Benjamin Franklin: “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.”

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