Experiential learning and conventional learning: what neuroscience can teach us

By William Seidman I’m working with a company that is asking traditional instructional designers to develop experiential learning activities – which are different in conception, design, and actual practice from what these designers are used to doing. There’s an inherent struggle: it’s difficult to be learner-focused if you are sticking to traditional design. In experiential learning, everything begins with the learner experience. New ideas and new stimulation are useful only if they connect with the learners’ current abilities and ways of doing things – with who they are, right now.  A student isn’t a vessel into which the instructor pours knowledge.  In addition, the learning must have enough of the right types of repetition to be internalized. Traditional instructional design is much more about telling people what they should know — and telling them very specifically what they will do — to learn something. In my view, there’s an unspoken inherent mistrust of the learner in the process, and in any “teaching” in which the course designer and instructor are in charge. The neuroscience of learning proves over and over again that experiential learning, in contrast, is all about providing learners with activities,  and trusting that they will learn the “right” lessons, and also trusting that they will continue to learn the right lessons often enough to produce long-term change. The difference in perspective between a trusting and a not-trusting teaching method is where I’ve found great opportunities for learning, creativity, and growth.]]>

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