No pain, no gain: Managing the fallout from reflection in cross-style experiential learning

Jeanne Hill and Pamela Houghton

University of Central Lancashire

Many UK educators are embracing the theory and techniques of experiential learning as a way of facilitating learning transfer and 'learning to learn'. This paper reports on a two-year empirical research project with over 200 undergraduates on competency- and work-based learning modules about their reactions to both didactic and experiential methods of teaching and learning.

Students who have achieved most of their learning in traditional passive, didactic teaching and learning are often confused, frustrated and resistant when exposed to more active experiential methods. This is particularly true in the case of the reflective exercises that we believe contribute strongly to learning to learn, regardless of the learning style of the student. One result is that a number of students tend to reject the modules and associated learning activities as useless and irrelevant. Another problem arises when students are forced to address the discrepancy between their self-image of learning competence and the reality revealed in reflective exercises (Rogers, 1969). As a result, while some students are later converted to seeing the benefits of these activities at a later time, the initial rejection can result in withdrawal from the modules and a resulting loss of useful learning.

The paper outlines a model for the design of experiential learning initiatives developed as a result of the student feedback and teacher experience. It is theoretically based on Kolb's learning cycle, the use of metacognition, and techniques for managing negative emotional fallout. It also attempts to quantify the base level of persistent rejection that will result in student withdrawal from experiential learning modules. Implications for curriculum design, classroom activities and strategic scene-setting are discussed.

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