Experiential Education: Learning by doing

The words of the famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle (300 BC) “The things we have to learn before we do them, we learn by doing them” ring true even more today, as schools around the world struggle to make learning real world. The pressure is coming from the real world, from the world of business, which is demanding skills that traditional schools simply don’t teach.

Aristotle’s idea of ‘Learning by Doing’ was further expanded in the 20th century by the American education reformer and philosopher John Dewey. In his famous book, Democracy and Education, he writes, ”I believe that the school must represent present life – life as real and vital to the child as that which he carries on in the home, in the neighborhood, or on the playground.”

Simply put, learning by doing or experiential education takes place  when learners actively engage in activities or experiences to enrich their knowledge.

Unfortunately, the present day education system has failed to imbibe this timeless principle into its learning processes. This is true for today’s parents who spent days, weeks, months and years sitting in their classrooms uninspired and uninterested during majority of their learning time. The results are there for everyone to see, many adults are dissatisfied and struggling in their jobs, and in their overall careers. It also holds true for today’s children who are also going through an uninspiring and uninteresting learning experience in their own classrooms. This is strange, given that the case for real life experiential learning was made many thousand years ago, beginning with the Indian Gurukul system and echoed by almost every well known philosopher and education reformer in the world’s history. More recently, neuroscientists, child psychologists and modern day education leaders are driving the same point, backed by solid research.

Are ‘learning’ and ‘doing’ related?

This question needs to be at the top of the mind of every teacher. Most teachers  believe that ‘doing’ is a waste of time, when students can learn what is being taught to them in a lecture style. This approach is completely flawed and now there is enormous brain research to prove that students learn better by engaging themselves actively in the learning process. Experiential education is the key to make students learn more effectively.

Real life learning where children learn by doing and by applying what they’ve learnt helps children attune their learning with what is required in their life after school. Dynamic learning systems lead to greater neural development and spark the imagination of children. The famous Scientist Albert Einstein aptly said “imagination is more important than knowledge”.

Children are born with the power of imagination

Children are born with a gift of  imagination, which largely remains untapped because of the unfortunate emphasis on theoretical and rote learning. Because of lack of time and resources in school, the concept of learning by doing, barring a few practical classes, is rare. Even in these practical classes the outcome of the experiments is predetermined leaving little room for imagination  and innovation. These classes are mostly an eyewash and have little to do with how we operate in the real world.

The system of delivery of content, problems where outcomes are predetermined and where all these things can be tested based on fixed answers are all designed to make the job easy for the teacher. It is much harder for a teacher to create learning environments where each student is fully engaged, is learning by solving real world problems and coming up with solutions where the outcomes are not predetermined. It takes brilliant teachers and innovative methods of evaluation – to truly assess a student’s ability to think out of the box, to work with others and to solve real world problems.

Despite the march of technology, it has not yet impacted the education system the way it should have. Technology can make it easier to customise individual lesson plans and to evaluate students based on multiple real world skills and parameters. Technology can give both a teacher and a student real time feedback on their development across multiple parameters. Harvard University Professor Howard Gardner has wonderfully articulated how multiple intelligences need to be developed in a student and technology can be used as a powerful tracking and measurement tool.

The world is changing rapidly. Are you changing with it?

Nations are rising a falling. Over the next 10-25 years, by the time our children step into the real world China and India would have become the world’s largest economies. Artificial intelligence and robotics would have taken away more than half of the world’s jobs. Conventional jobs themselves are disappearing and giving way to new titles. People would be expected to do more than two to three jobs and to work (virtually) across the world. Many of today’s big companies would have fallen and given way to new businesses, industries and segments. The nature of work itself is changing. Organisations are doing away with the command control style of operating and instead empowering people across various levels so that there is greater innovation, ownership and accountability. Organisations are desperate for new talent and new ideas, they are looking for new talent that brings fresh skills.

According to The World Economic Forum, skills such as complex problem solving, creativity, emotional intelligence and coordinating with others shall be  among the top 10 required skills in the World of 2020. Parents need to ask a simple question: are today’s schools teaching and assessing these skills? Today’s parent will need to rise and will need to act, in order to give their child the superior education experience they couldn’t have. The kind of education that will empower their child like nothing else will, so he is truly successful in the very different world of the future.

Sandy Hooda

Sandy Hooda

Sandy Hooda is a first generation entrepreneur with an outstanding track record in technology and hospitality ventures. He realised through personal experience that his school education not only undermined his love of learning, but also played an insignificant role in him becoming successful in life. To better understand whether anyone had solved this education puzzle, he spent three years traveling around the world identifying the most progressive schools and galvanising the superstar education leaders behind these schools in order to create Vega Schools. His life mission is to revolutionise education based on research on ‘why’ and ‘how’ we learn so there is perfect harmony between school education, love of learning, and success in life.

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