Languages and Experiential Learning

‘The real voyage of discovery consists, not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.’

– La Prisonnière

Experiential learning focuses on the personal experience of the learner rather than what the learner is taught. Humanistic psychologists believe that the growth of a personality and an individuals’ sense of self is developed through their personal experiences. ‘Self-concept’ is a social product shaped by how we interact with our environment, and to become a well-rounded individual, the development of a positive self-regard and acceptance of others is crucial.1 Human experiences such as travel and learning a new language help to nurture these concepts, leading to individuals who have more awareness of their own feelings, an openness to new experiences, greater tolerance, trust in others, and the ability to listen empathetically and perceive other people’s feelings.

Schools would benefit from a greater awareness of how experiential learning can empower students. Having time away from the classroom and more exposure to the real world builds character and community, which some would argue is more valuable than learning from overused textbooks and rigid lesson plans.

Educational language trips are one way schools can expose student’s to experiential learning. Some documented benefits include2:

  • The establishment of an individual set of values within the context of understanding and recognising the community and differences in other cultures.
  • The chance to explore and appreciate their own ancestry, culture, and place in the world.
  • Learning to be comfortable alone, whilst understanding the various dynamics between people that help form healthy relationships.
  • The acceptance of mortality and knowing that every choice they make affects the generations to come.
  • The chance to create new things and enjoy new experiences.
  • The development of individual thought and critical thinking through observing, analysing and discovering their truth without relying on others to tell them.
  • Favouring love, curiosity, reverence and empathy over material wealth.
  • Deciding to pursue a career that contributes to the common good in some way.

What is experiential learning?3

Put simply, experiential learning is the process of learning through experience (aka: learning through reflection on doing). The immediate personal experience is seen as the focal point for every lesson, which gives life, texture and subjective personal meaning to abstract concepts, whilst providing a concrete, publicly shared reference point to test and validate the implication of ideas formed during the process.

Theoretical models focus on the resolution of two opposing dimensions: prehension and transformation. Prehension is how an individual grasps experiences using both apprehension (unconscious) and comprehension (conscious), whilst transformation refers to individuals who are prone to reflective observation, are ready to take risks to maximise success, and have little concern for potential error or failure. These polar approaches create four orientations to learning:

  • Concrete experience: Doing/having an experience
  • Reflective observation: Reviewing/reflecting on the experience
  • Abstract conceptualisation: Concluding/learning from the experience
  • Active experimentation: Planning/trying out what you’ve learned

Kolb (1984) proposed that a person cannot both process (think) and perceive (feel) at the same time. We choose which we prefer and then make a choice about whether we prefer to ‘do’ or ‘watch.’ These two choices reveal our main learning style, which is one of four possibilities:

  • Diverging (feeling and watching)
  • Assimilating (watching and thinking)
  • Converging (doing and thinking)
  • Accommodating (doing and feeling)

The benefits of application

Understanding each learning preference enables teachers to strengthen their capacity to teach, and their student’s capacity to be taught. Applying experiential learning can increase the effectiveness of lessons through developing activities and materials that draw on the abilities of each learning style. These opportunities are beneficial to students who process information differently and less traditionally than others. Another experiential approach is through the encouragement of self-directed learning, which humanistic psychology and cognitive learning share core values with.4 They also agree on the many benefits of this approach due to its encouragement of healthy personal growth and the natural development of self-confidence, initiative, perseverance and overall life satisfaction. This is because when students diagnose their own learning needs, set their own goals, engage in their own learning process, and evaluate what they’ve learned, they are typically happier and more confident than their counterparts.

Language trips are one way to provide experiential learning opportunities that benefit each learning style. Research suggests that students who are predominantly classroom based struggle with learning languages due to the differences in how they process information, whilst those exposed to languages in a natural environment are more likely to become bilingual. Experiential learning outside of the classroom or through a language trip increases cognitive processing skills and yields higher language proficiency than those in more traditional settings.5 This proves that there’s a clear and beneficial symbiosis between language trips and experiential learning.

To learn more about how Ardmore Educational Travel can provide valuable experiential learning opportunities, visit us online here.

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References

  1. Healthy personality: An approach from the viewpoint of humanistic
    psychology. Source article: https://psycnet.apa.org/record/1974-23013-000
  2. Educational benefits of international experiential learning in an MSW
    program. Source article: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0020872808093347?journalCode=iswb
  3. What is the Experiential learning cycle? Source article: https://www.growthengineering.co.uk/what-is-experiential-learning/
  4. Experiential Learning and Its Critics: Preserving the Role of Experience
    in Management Learning and Education. Source article: https://journals.aom.org/doi/abs/10.5465/amle.2002.8509336
  5. Using Experiential Learning to Enhance Students’ Foreign Language
    Proficiency. Source article: https://www.translationjournal.net/July-2017/using-experiential-learning-to-enhance-students-foreign-language-proficiency.html
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