2.12 Experiential Learning Cycle

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Certified Facilitator of Adult Learning

Experiential Learning Cycle: an Overview

The experiential learning cycle is an inductive process used by participants (learners) to derive meaning from observations and interactions in creative learning experiences. The cycle was developed by Pheiffer and Jones and a detailed description may be found in: The 1980 Handbook for Group Facilitators, Pfeiffer, WJ and Jones JE, San Diego, CA. University Associates, pp 3-10.

Benne, Bradford & Lippitt (1964 T-Group Theory and Laboratory Method, Bradford et.al, New York John Wiley & Sons, pp16-44) describe 7 distinct learning objectives which may be accomplished through experiential learning and laboratory education (creative teaching strategies). They include:

  1. Increased awareness of and sensitivity to emotional reactions and expressions in self and others
  2. Greater ability to perceive and to learn from the consequences of own actions.
  3. Clarification and development of personal and professional values and goals consonant with a democratic and scientific approach to problems of social and professional decision and action
  4. Development of concepts and theoretical insights to serve as tools in linking personal factors with situational requirements.
  5. Achievement of behavioral effectiveness in transactions within one’s own environments.
  6. Recognition that continuing opportunities to apply new learnings will occur in real-life situations
  7. Learning how to learn that includes taking initiative in seeking and using resources of others to enhance won learning and becoming an effective resource in giving help.

In the Experiential Learning Cycle, the instructor determines in advance questions to facilitate discussion for each stage in the cycle. These questions help learners develop a sense of ownership over what is learned and guide them through all forms of learning. Guidelines for developing facilitation questions are presented in the next three units

Everything you have submitted so far for this course is contained within the first phase of the Experiential Learning Cycle – EXPERIENCING. There is much more to teaching and learning than objectives, content, and teaching strategies. The Experiential Learning Cycle will help you develop valuable facilitation skills that address how you teach above and beyond what you teach.


Determine Learning Objectives

(doing it)

The Activity phase

Concrete Experience


Learners involve themselves fully, openly, and without bias in new experiences.

(now what?)
Learning how to use
Active Experimentation
Learners use newly acquired theories to make decisions and solve

Discussing reactions, patterns and dynamics
Reflective Observation
Learners observe and reflect on these experiences from many perspectives.

(so what?)
Developing Principles
Abstract Conceptualization
Learners create concepts that integrate their observations into logically sound theories.

Learners EXPERIENCE the learning strategy (teaching method such as lecturette, handout, video, etc) to develop a common data base for the discussion that follows.

The second step is PUBLISHING. This step involves finding out what happened within individuals, at both the cognitive and affective levels, during the preceding activity or experience.

In step three, PROCESSING, the facilitator helps participants systematically examine the commonly shared experiences of the group. Participants essentially reconstruct the patterns and interactions of the activity from the published individual reports.

After processing, participants are ready to make an inferential leap into GENERALIZING the experience to the outside world. Learners are guided to identify situations in their personal or professional areas that are similar to those in the activity they just experienced. In this stage, the facilitator may bring in theoretical and research findings to support the learning.

The final stage, APPLYING, asks participants to plan ways to take new actions in their "real-life" vs. "classroom" worlds.

Experiencing and Generalizing in the Learning Cycle are ways of taking in information. They form a continuum between Sensing and Intuition.

Publishing/Processing and Applying in the Learning Cycle are ways of focusing one’s energy. They form a continuum between Introversion and Extraversion.

This means that your Extravert is going to be happiest toward the end of the cycle, when the "real action" is occurring, while your Introvert will enjoy quiet time earlier just to process the information. The Sensor in your group will be most lively at the beginning of the cycle, and the Intuitor will come alive mid-way through when the generalizing occurs. In essence, the cycle satisfies the needs of your participants when used within your program.

In the Experiential Learning Cycle, the learner’s subjective experience
is of critical importance in the learning process. Experiential Learning Cycles propose an iterative series of processes that underlies learning. In other words, it’s not what you teach, but how you teach it that most dramatically influences the learner.

Experiential Learning Cycles are commonly used to help structure experience-based training and education programs. It is the teacher’s responsibility to structure and organize a series of experiences
that positively influence each individual’s potential future experiences (
Dewey, 1938/1997
In other words, "good experiences" motivate, encourage, and enable students to go on to have more valuable learning experiences, whereas, "poor experiences" tend to lead towards a student closing off from potential positive experiences in the future.

Surprise – No tests for this page! So, take a Break…

NEXT 2.13 Why Use the Experiential Learning Cycle

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