Is Experiential Learning the same as Learning by Doing?
Facilitator Tips Episode 37

Experiential Learning is NOT Learning by Doing


This week’s Facilitator Tips episode explores the distinction between the methodology of experiential learning and the learning style of learning by doing.


<< Go to Episode 36   Go to Episode 38 >>


Many educational professionals use these terms interchangeably. However, they are not the same thing.

There is one significant difference that distinguishes these two approaches.

Click the play button above to discover the difference between learning by doing and experiential learning.


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Video Transcript


Welcome to Episode 37 of the Facilitator Tips video series.

My name is Mark Collard, your host. I’m also an experiential trainer and author.

And today I want to challenge you. I want to actually focus on this fact that experiential training is not the same as learning by doing. Many people, even I in my history in the early parts of my career, often used these terms interchangeably but they are actually very, very different.

First of all, what is experiential learning? It is the process through which we reflect on what we have done. That is experiential learning. It is the learning through reflection on what we have done. So experiential learning, therefore, is not a way… It’s a way of doing things. It’s not the actual doing of it itself. It’s an approach.

And here’s a really powerful example to give you an example of what I mean. My son has turned 6 years of age, and a couple of years ago when he learned to ride a bike for the very first time, he like every other kid who learns to ride a bike, of course, is very unsteady. Now, in the beginning, he started on a balance bike. And so that was all he had to work at. There were no pedals. He just had to get used to balancing. And he did that really, really quickly.

And then it was clear that he needed to upgrade to something where he could propel himself because until that point he could only ever go downhill. We needed him to go uphill as well. So we added the new bike and there was the pedals. In the beginning, as a good father, I would hold him, getting used to pushing and pulling the pedals, and of course, there were lots of accidents. He would fall over. He would scrape his knee.

None of that was a lot of fun for the parent or for the kid involved. There were even times where he said that’s it, I’m never going to go on a bike again. But gradually we kept at it, we kept at it, and we got to the point where I could no longer hold him. He was now racing off. And I still remember vividly what happened next as he shot off, he was now out of my reach, and he turned this big arc and then scooted right past me, he said, “Daddy, I’ve got it!”

And it’s at that moment people say look, look, he learned by doing. He did not. He learned by not doing it. Each time he fell over, each time it didn’t go well, he was blessed with a father as a facilitator who was able to help him reflect on what actually was going on, that if he just kept on doing the same thing, learning by doing, doing is not enough, if you’ve kept doing the same thing, you get the same result. We needed to reflect on what he did, change it, and get a different result, and that my friend is experiential learning.

Reflection is the key. Doing, doing, doing, doing, devoid of reflection will not create learning or an education. So if you are involved as an educator, teacher, corporate trainer, whoever, then it’s important to understand the difference, that a whole lot of doing is not enough, that you need to actually involve some levels of reflection.

And here’s the other thing and this was something that Albert Einstein mentioned that the only source of knowledge for us as a human being is experience, and that was exactly the experience of my son as he learned to ride a bike and everything else for you and I, if you are human and have a breath, is all of our knowledge has come through experience.

Gosh. We have so many episodes in which I end up saying gosh, there’s so much more to learn, and this is a really, really powerful one.

If you’re interested, check out my books Serious Fun and indeed my latest No Props No Problem. I talk more about the impact of reflection to help a group grow and learn and develop, and there’s certainly a lot to learn in this space.

So thank you for watching. If you’ve got a comment, please leave a comment here, or indeed if you think that there are colleagues who might be interested to learn more about this distinction, please share this video as well.

Otherwise, I look forward to seeing you at our next episode. Bye for now.


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