The Value of Experiential Learning

I’ve been thinking a lot about experiential learning since I wrote my previous post on educational holiday experiences for children. As much as I like to see the boys broadening their knowledge with books, educational apps, documentaries and other educational programs, there is still an element of learning through these methods that cannot top having a first hand experience of the subject (hence the explosion of activities in the snow, Sherbrooke Forest, Sovereign Hill and all the miscellaneous park visits in between).

For instance, I remember the first time I bought a digital camera. I wanted it so I could take photos of my group rock climbing outdoors. With that in mind, I thought what I needed was something small, portable, hardy (in case it was dropped), and semi-waterproof (in case it rained). It wasn’t until I put the camera into action that I realised it had some very serious faults that made it unsuitable for my purpose. Firstly, it was slow to turn on. By the time it was ready to take photos, I’d already missed my shot. Secondly, it was slow to record the photos. It was not possible to take photos in fairly rapid succession. If I had realised the importance of these two functions, I would have realised that the other camera I was contemplating that wasn’t quite as hardy or water resistant would have better suited my needs. It also turned out that my camera was fairly well protected from water, scratches and bumps by the pouch I bought for it anyway.

Another example that comes to mind was the event in Romance of the Three Kingdoms when strategist Ma Su and veteran general Wang Ping were given the task to defend a small but very important town, Jieting. Ma Su, who was learned in the strategies of war but not very experienced in it made a tactical blunder when he ignored the instructions of his leader and made camp at the top of a hill. When the veteran general Wang Ping argued that his water supply would be cut off if they were surrounded, Ma Su arrogantly dismissed the general’s arguments believing his own knowledge on war strategies to be superior. As a result of ignoring the wiser counsel of those around him, Ma Su lost the battle of Jieting. Ma Su made the mistake of believing his book knowledge on war strategy to be superior to the general’s years of experience in the battle field.

A third example is one my cousin shared with me. While interviewing candidates for a start-up company, she received an applicant from an MBA holder with good paper qualifications and experience working for large companies. During the interview, she wanted to check his resourcefulness and asked him how he would source the technical information he lacked. She was expecting an answer along the lines of tapping into past contacts. Instead, he threw back the question, “Isn’t there a technical department?” The interview was for a start-up company of 2. How likely would it be for the company to have a technical department? The person who was eventually hired for the position was a 50 year old man with only a diploma, although he had numerous years of work experience. He got the job because he was able to demonstrate initiative in the interview unlike the MBA candidate who came so highly qualified.

These are just a few examples but there are many more. The story of Ma Su also brings to mind the danger of poor thinking skills especially when combined with an intelligent individual that was highlighted by Edward de Bono in Teach Your Child How to Think. Because such individuals are very intelligent, they are able to defend their flawed premise more convincingly. And the example of the MBA candidate shows that good academic qualifications doesn’t necessarily equate to success in the working world. It was originally a foot in the door to demonstrate to potential employers that a brain existed above those shoulders but many companies no longer rely on paper qualifications.

Which leads me to further thoughts on education that have been bouncing around in my head for a while – what I want for my boys and what I expect them to learn in school and as they grow up. But that’s a story for another day…

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of (a website on parenting, education, child development) and (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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