APPENDIX C: EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
INTRODUCTION

As argued in Chapter 4 the theory of Experiential Learning underpins TEAM BUILDING EVENTS.

Much writing about Experiential Learning uses a fluid vocabulary in which terms are used interchangeably and are not clearly defined. This research owns preference has been to follow the language used by the leaders and managers of Team building event companies, freelance providers and organizational buyers of TEAM BUILDING EVENTS interviewed as an essential part of the study. This approach to terminology is consistent with the approach taken by PhD Greenaway (1995 p.26) in his doctoral thesis who chose to adopt the usage of terminology typically followed by the managers he was interviewing.


As suggested by Brown (2003 p.8) there are a number of Experiential Learning theories, all involving circles. For Greenaway (1995 p.29) the model which dominates Experiential Learning theory is a four stage learning cycle, of which there are many versions. This research has found Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle (Kolb, 1984) depicted in Figure 2.2 to be the most frequently quoted in the literature of Outdoor Management Development (OMD) (Brown, 2003 p.8) and also in the fields of both management development and development training (Greenaway, 1995 p.29). Furthermore, Loynes, (1990) cited in Martin (2003 p.17) argued that Outdoor Management Development (OMD), Professional Development Programmes (PDP) and Corporate Adventure Training (CAT) are based on Kolb’s (1984) Experiential Learning model.

Experiential Learning theory defines learning as:

    “The process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.” Kolb (1984, p.41) quoted in Brown (2003, p.8)

For Martin (2001 p.13) the use of Experiential Learning promotes active involvement and contrasts with the passive learning associated with traditional teacher-centred methods. Carver (1996) cited in Martin (2001 p.14) argued that experiential education can take place in a variety of settings, for example, wilderness based adventure, job training, survival training and art education. Bank (1994) cited in Martin (2001 p.14) relates to the subject indicating that experiential education can take place also in educational institutions: from preschool to graduate programmes at university. Martin (2001 p.13) cited Miles and Priest (1990) to suggest that the experimentation, innovation and creativity of this field should occur as part of mainstream formal educational settings. The development of different types of experiential and outdoor training has also occasionally been associated with the military (Martin 2001 p.14). Dr. Greenaway (1995) defines Experiential Learning:

“Experiential Learning refers to all kinds of learning through experience whether structured or unstructured, intentional or unintentional” Greenaway (1995 p.29)

To quote Dr. Martin (2001)

“Experiential Learning is based on the belief that the process of personal growth occurs through change as a result of direct experiences. It is an active process involving the learner being placed in unfamiliar environments, outside their positions of comfort and into states of dissonance. This lack of harmony requires problem solving, inquiry and reflection” Martin (2001 p.12)

Kraft and Sakofs (1991), cited in Martin (2003 p.12) argued that “experiential activities should be real and meaningful providing natural consequences for the learner, for example, outdoor activities”. Krouwel (1994) also cited in Martin (2003 p.13) argued that the use of Experiential Learning, and in particular the outdoors, confronts people with the results of their own actions and provides important learning for life. Ewert (1996) cited in Martin (2003 p.13) also suggested that “for many experiential activities the natural environment is the medium through which program goals and objectives are realised” (p.29).

Brown (2003 p.34-35) cites Irvine and Wilson (1994) relating to OMD Experiential Learning based programmes to argue the following:

“The essential elements of OMD described in the literature are not exclusive to the Outdoors, the Outdoors does not need to be present in the equation, and in fact ‘too much outdoors’ (huge treks up mountains) may inhibit managerial learning” Brown (2003 p.34-35)

This realization, goes on Brown (2003 p.34-35), has encouraged many providers to practice the equivalent of OMD in conference rooms, and to move away from traditional outdoor activities. According to Beard and Wilson (2002 cited in Brown 2003 p.34-35) many providers feel that this approach gives them more focus and sophistication in meeting their clients needs. Some providers find that some features of Experiential Learning can be common to both indoor and outdoor settings (Greenaway, 1995). However as commented by Brown (2003 pp. 34-35) “conference rooms, balls, buckets, string and sticky tape can lack magic, emotion and spirit, when compared to a beautiful outdoor environment and some providers do combine the classroom”

THE EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING PROCESS

Experiential learning cycles

“Experiential Learning Cycles are models of learning sequences of two or more stages. All cycles include experiential and reflective processes” Greenaway (1995 p.29)

 


   
Figure 2.2 Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle
Kolb, D.A. (1984) in Brown (2003 p.8)

According to Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle depicted in Figure 2.2, Brown (2003 p.8) argues that the Experiential Learning theory model portrays two dialectically related modes of grasping experience- Concrete Experience and Abstract Conceptualization; and two dialectically related modes of transforming experience- Reflective Observation and Active Experimentation. The four-stage learning cycle, goes on Brown (2003 p.8), suggests that immediate or Concrete Experiences are the basis for observations and reflections. These reflections are assimilated and distilled into abstract concepts from which new implications for action can be drawn (Brown 2003 p.8). These implications, concludes Brown (2003 p.8) can be actively tested and serve as guides when creating new experiences.

Along the same lines, and also according to Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle depicted in Figure 2.2, Greenaway (1995 pp.25-26) argued that this model addresses two conflicts. First, the conflict between concrete experience and abstract concepts, and second the conflict between observation and action. For Greenaway (1995 pp. 25-26), the Kolb’s Experiential Learning cycle portrays that it is the resolution of these conflicts which results in learning.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning model is a process for continuous improvement and can be applied to any aspect of individual life and especially to organizations Brown (2003 p.11). For example, an organization’s members as part of a Team building event, may use the learning cycle to stop, reflect and observe what has happened in their team (for example, the interpersonal processes) during a particular Team building activity (the ‘Concrete Experience’ i.e. sailing). Subsequently, the team may develop general statements about what was effective or ineffective, often in terms of how different factors, for example how such interpersonal processes affected team performance and results. At this ‘Abstract Conceptualization’ stage they may compare their performance with theory inputs provided by the event facilitators on Team building and other H.R. and business theories developed by such gurus as Dr R, M. Belbin, Myers Briggs or Michael Porter. They may then move on to ‘Active Experimentation’ by testing new ways of working together, new management skills, new strategies with the objective of improving team performance. The daily activity, hopefully new activity, is the application of the revised thinking and planning into the ‘Concrete Experience’ of this Team building activity.

For Brown (2003 p.13) “Kolb’s theory does provide a useful and powerful planning, designing and thinking tool for trainers”. The former author, with regards facilitating Experiential Learning in the outdoors, goes on to argue that often trainers need to provide learners with (outdoor) skills to open the door to a learning experience.

Dainty and Lucas (1992) cited in Brown (2003 p.30) suggest that Experiential Learning activities should be sequenced, starting with fun and enjoyment, through narrow skills, broad skills to development (figure 2.4).
This model suggests that the learning of narrow skills such as sailing, camping and climbing are valid as part of Experiential Learning based activities, as long as they are built upon as the event or programme progresses to be utilized in broad skills such as a sailing trip or an excursion which can lead to development when supported by process reviewing (Brown, 2003 p.30).
Some narrow skills essential to participate in a Team building Experiential Learning based activity (-the broad skill) may be very straightforward (i.e. how to use a compass). This being the case, the activity may engage almost immediately with broad skills, thus making it easy for the participants to explore Team building requirements. However, if such narrow skills are found to be too difficult they can block the exploration in Experiential Learning based activities (Brown 2003 p.32) of for example effective Team building requirements for participants in the exercise.

Reviewing and transfer

To quote Greenaway (1992) “reviewing is an essential feature of experience-based learning”. Irvine and Wilson (1994, quoted in Brown, 2003) argued that “a review of the process used to achieve outcomes is essential to transfer” (p.34). Brown (2003) cites Krouwell and Goodwill (1992), Dainty and Lucas (1992) and Gass, (1990) to suggest that “participation in activities will not on its own lead to learning” (p.34).

“The main function of reviewing is to enable participants to learn from their experiences” Greenaway (1992)

Although, Greenaway (1995 quoted in Brown, 2003) with regards to experience-based learning in management and development found that:

“Experiences reported to have had affected managers’ learning and development, most were experiences that were full of meaning at the time and needed little processing to make them meaningful” Greenaway (1995) quoted in Brown (2003 P.34)

This goes on Brown (2003) “should point trainers towards enabling rich, varied, eventful experiences and away from providing shallow activities” (p.34)

It is recognized that humans do not change easily (Brown, 2003 p.32).

“Transfer is a very difficult issue and, despite being recognized as important, is seldom addressed well by trainers, participants and their managers, and is a key barrier for OMD (Rhodes, 2000 cited in Brown 2003 p.32) and any other form of training and learning”
 Brown (2003 p.32)

With regards to Experiential Learning based programmes such as OMD, Brown (2003 p.31) cited McEvoy and Buller (1997) and Krouwel & Goodwill, (1994) to state that a well run programme will begin by clarifying objectives with managers, participants and providers, in accordance to what is hoped will be transferred later. Likewise, Woodcock (1979) referring to “ground rules for team development” (p.32) and “guidelines for designing TEAM BUILDING EVENTS” (p.36) emphasizes the importance for facilitators of starting a Team building event by defining the objectives to be achieved and being clear about its aims.