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Experiential Learning Toolkit: Blending Practice with Concepts
Beard, Colin (2010)
Kogan Page Limited
274 pages. ISBN: 978-0-7494-5078-6
An in-depth review by Roger Greenaway follows this overview provided by the publisher.
Publisher's Book Description
The Experiential Learning Toolkit provides practical examples showing experiential learning in action across a range of cultures and contexts from education, to corporate training, to individual and organizational development.
Publisher's Product Description
The Experiential Learning Toolkit presents a diverse range of practical exercises, which are based on the theory of experiential learning. Experiential learning is concerned with learning through direct experience, which aims to create more effective, engaging and embedded learning.
Each activity presented includes a description of the underlying principles, practical information on delivering the exercise as well as tips and further reading. The exercises cover a range of training needs including; effective customer service, telephone skills, applying strategic thinking, and developing creativity. Trainers will find this an invaluable resource, with fresh approaches which engage and inspire learners.
The author, Colin Beard, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is a National Teaching Fellow and a Professor of Experiential Learning at Sheffield Hallam University. He is also a learning and development consultant, working internationally with many clients in corporate organizations, higher and further education and adult education.
View 'The Experiential Learning Toolkit' at at Amazon.co.uk
View 'The Experiential Learning Toolkit' at Amazon.com
Experiential Learning Toolkit: Blending Practice with Concepts
Beard, Colin (2010)
reviewed by Roger Greenaway
There are not enough books like The Experiential Learning Toolkit: books that seek to balance theory and practice in an integrated and useful way. The word 'blending' (in the subtitle) certainly applies to the 230 page toolkit section of the book in which 'tools' and 'concepts' are never far apart and are frequently 'blended' together. The toolkit section follows a 44 page introduction that provides theoretical background and explains the organisation of the book.
The core structure of The Experiential Learning Toolkit is The Learning Combination Lock presented in earlier (co-authored) handbooks (2002 and 2006). The Learning Combination Lock is modestly introduced as 'one approach' for 'attending to the whole person'. The Learning Combination Lock has six different rings. Each ring represents one of Beard's six dimensions of experiential learning and each dimension contains 5 illustrative tools:
Each tool (also referred to as an 'experience') is presented in a standard structure:
And then the surprises begin! The 'tool' or 'experience' can be anything from question cards to a tall ship, from an exercise in classifying nuts and bolts to service learning in the community. Some of the tools are for reflecting on experiences that have already happened ('Ace of Spades', 'String Lines' and 'Comic Strips and Newspapers'), some (like 'Listening to Silence', 'Blindfold' and 'Antiques Roadshow') are for generating present experiences, some are for skills development ('Altering Reality' for negotiation skills, 'Hearing Voices' for telephone skills', 'The Marketplace' for creative thinking skills) and others (such as 'How to get to...' and 'Unmasking') are for exploring future possibilities. This variety of what constitutes a 'tool' appears to be deliberately mind-expanding: whatever you thought experiential learning was at the outset, you will end up with a much bigger picture of the possibilities.
The Learning Combination Lock (which provides the core structure of the toolkit) is primarily a tool for thinking creatively about the limitless possibilities in each of the six dimensions of belonging, doing, sensing, feeling, knowing, and being. The Experiential Learning Toolkit extends possibilities well beyond the 30 tools you are shown in the contents. Sometimes, one of these 30 tools turns out to be one tool with many variations, sometimes the tool can be several different tools with a common title, and sometimes it can be just one tool (which could be a disappointment until you recall that this is precisely what you were led to expect).
Given the range of contexts from which these tools come, it seems unlikely that any single reader would be in a position to use more than 50% of the tools exactly as described; but more creative readers may well find thought-provoking inspiration in those tools that do not directly apply to their own context. The author is a National Teaching Fellow and a Professor of Experiential Learning, so it should be no surprise that many of the tools are suitable for teachers and lecturers wanting to make their lessons more experiential. The author's background in environmental work is clear and is the inspiration for many tools. And there are examples from the author's work in corporate training throughout all dimensions. Despite this broad range of contexts there are few tools that cannot be tweaked to be of value beyond the context in which they are described.
A significant strength of this book is that most tools are original. Many of the tools have been developed and tested by the author in a variety of contexts. The blending of practice and concepts works particularly well where the author is providing the conceptual background of tools that he has developed himself. This is where his passion and infectious enthusiasm shines through. When more familiar tools are presented (such as sentence completion or string lines) the presentation is more straightforward and less inspiring - but perhaps a bit closer to what you might expect from a 'toolkit'.
I am impressed by the range of tools that use space and spatial relationships. Some involve moving labels and objects ('Different Ways to Know', 'Nuts and Bolts', 'How to get to ...'). Others involve giant models or maps on which participants move ('Just Four Steps', 'Ace of Spades' and 'Walk the Talk'). Seeing, touching, moving and making are fully integrated into most of these tools for experiential learning.
Although I have suggested other ways in which these tools might be categorised, the value of the six dimensions structure is that it is universal and can be applied to every situation. The tools are 'illustrative'. Here is a sample tool from each dimension.
Some tools really challenge the boundaries of 'experiential learning'. The concept becomes so broad that it seems that 'experience' (and consequently 'experiential learning') can be just about anything you want it to be ('Experience' can apparently be a session plan, an activity within the session, what the trainer 'delivers', what the learner feels ...). The regular appearance of the words 'experiential' and 'experientially' made me increasingly unsure about the differences between 'experiential activity' and 'activity'; between 'experientially exploring' and 'exploring'; between 'experientially engaging' and 'engaging'; between people getting to know each other 'experientially' and people getting to know each other; and ultimately between 'experiential learning' and 'learning'. 'Experiential learning' is a famously slippery concept that continues to evade precise definition. But the term 'experiential' does signal a commitment to working with the whole person. And how can anyone be troubled by this intention? According to the author, the book is about "creating learning that is more engaging, more effective and more embedded". If this book were entitled 'The Engaging-Effective-Embedded Learning Toolkit' it might be more accurate, but 'Experiential Learning' remains the best label we have for this significant area of practice even if it is a little frayed around the theoretical edges
Although there is no concluding chapter, the second last tool sounds very much like the author's parting words or final message. The full title of this tool is: 'Service Learning: Social and Environmental Responsibility'. Beard writes: "Many organisations are now substituting environmental activities or community-based activities in place of recreational pursuits such as raft building, climbing or abseiling." He reports that a client in the 1980s said to him, "We need something different to develop our staff: something more engaging and real". The author argues that service learning doubles the value of experiential learning because there is a wider benefit to the community. In addition he writes, "real projects seem to have a positive motivational impact on client learning, affecting the way in which participants engage in learning from experience".
I am persuaded by the author's commitment to making learning more real - a thread that is common to all the tools in this wide-ranging toolkit.
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