What is learning from experience?

Learning from Experience is the learning we gain by reflecting on the experiences we encounter.

Experience without reflection does not always result in learning. It is through the reflective process that meaning is created and new insights gained.

In 1939 John Dewey promoted the concept of learning from experience. His approach rested on the proposition that a person’s response in any given situation is chosen from a repertoire (or menu) of memorised responses that have worked well for them in the past.

Dewey suggested new learning started when a person experiences a situation in which their existing repertoire of responses cannot provide a solution. This motivates them to search for a new response.

The search starts by scanning the situation to identify its salient features, using their creative imagination to construct potential new responses.

Reasoning is then deployed to examine the potential responses. Each is tested before one is selected based on its potential payback.

The learning process ends with the successful application of the newly learned response. This is then stored in the memory for future use. Dewey depicted this model as a series of repeating cycles.

Today, the concept of learning from experience continues to be depicted as a learning cycle of which David Kolb’s model is the most frequently used.

In Kolb’s cycle the process of learning seems to begin when a new experience is encountered. He argues that all points in the cycle act as equal partners in the learning process. The result is that the learning process can start at any one of the four points in the cycle.

Dewey’s repeating cycles

We know from current research that learning is a dynamic process that takes place inside the complex structure of the brain.

The original learning cycle presented a simplistic representation of this process. Recent versions of the cycle have been changed and acknowledge the complexity of the learning process.

Kolb’s learning cycle