Higher Education and Experiential Learning
As you can see from the breakdown of the question, I am an analyst. I have been schooled in the school of schooling to take things apart in order to gain understanding; to formulate a working knowledge of concepts in order to cogitate how things work. I wonder if I’ve always learned this way or if systems’ thinking plasticized my brain via conformity. Irregardless, there is one thing I know about the brain in my 20 plus years of studying it and that is this. Multi-sensory experiences or experiential education equals higher order or deeper learning. Period.
Without it, our brain is on an isolated quest to create connections amidst ambiguity and competition for attention while imploring the always time consuming trial and error method of making sense of it all. It’s like working a thousand piece puzzle and trying all 999 pieces until you find a match and then starting all over again with piece number 2. You would eventually complete the puzzle but at what expense. However when we introduce the strategy of experiential learning into the equation, we now have a scenerio where a rich network of knowledge exists; multiple pathways to comprehension, application, and analysis equaling Level 3 learning.
In other words, we have opened the puzzle box and huge sections of the puzzle have been left together so that we can quickly and easily find where the missing pieces belong, resulting in working smarter versus harder. How does this apply to education? One common misconception about the learning process is that as we age our brain assimilates new information, information it has never been introduced to before, easily and quickly. The assumption is that as we age we have more life experiences than we did as a child and stronger neural interconnections increasing both recall and application of the learning.
Quite the opposite is true. While it is true that through the process of life experiences we acquire prerequisites allowing new information to quickly transition from the unfamiliar to familiarity, if prior knowledge is not perceived or there are discrepancies between what has been previously learned and practiced and the new information (first time learning), the ability to form new schema is slower as we age. Think about it in terms of learning a new language at the age of 5 versus 55.
Although you may have had 55 years with opportunities to learn the language Basque, your chances of rapidly becoming fluent in this vaguely spoken language are greater at the youthful age of 5 than at 55, although achieving fluency at either age is possible. In reality flipping the classroom should entail more of an environmental transition than a pedagogical one. Kindergarteners should be sitting in lecture halls viewing powerpoint presentations, listening to detailed explanations and watching youtube videos while adults should be in block centers building skyscrapers and fingerpainting.
Think about it. Children rapidly assimilate to a world of unfamiliarity all the time with varying degrees of complexity, while adults lose the confidence of childhood which limits their learning of new things. As Robert Fulgham famously says, “All I Really Do Need to Know (About Anything) I Learned in Kindergarten”. Sadly, we’ve gotten away from experiental education in higher education but that was not always the case. Educating at the highest level of learning use to mean that there would be a gradual transition from the desk to an apprenticeship, to career and technical training or an internship.
If one could memorize their ABCs then one could learn words and if words were learned then books could be read. Knowledge climaxed when one applied the information learned by reading those books, not memorizing them, to practice. Today we go from learning chemistry and algebra basics while conducting cooking experiments in kindergarten to equating one’s proficiency in medicine with one’s ability to rote memorize formulas and then regurgitate them on an exam. As it is widely known, rote memory declines with aging.
Therefore it is highly ironic that at the higher education level, communities of experts who are all striving for one common goal, the goal of learning, equate lower level thinking skills with intelligence. This ought not to be and to me its the key to the “Undumbing of America”. The documented decline in the intelligence ratio of Americans is not a result of our need to improve standards or our pedagogical skills but rather it points to the gradual increase in what I have termed “Lazy Brain Syndrome”.
After all it is much easier to assess multiple choice questions via scantron than o assess true acquisition through project based learning. We don’t even require students to take notes anymore as handouts are distributed with every word of our lecture written on powerpoint slides. When the definition of active learning denotes a transitioning from the expert demonstrating techniques in front of the class to unlearned students attempting to figure out poorly written case scenerios while the professor “facilitates” or grades papers or then it is a sad day for learning. Budget cuts have deceived us into believing that what is best for our citizens is to teach more facts than expertise.
After all, a naracissistic, know it all, generation is much more productive for a society than a group of Einsteins who know one or two things really well and to heck with the rest. This brings me to my final point. Why did I join the Ei Community? I joined because your mission is my mission. I am on a mission to transform education from the bottom up. I have tried the top down approach and to be honest, it appears virtually impossible to change those who have been schooled in the school of schooling. However, there is a generation of learners currently among us who refuse to learn via the drill and practice method.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, homeschooling has seen a 74% increase over an 8 year period and charter schools are becoming increasingly popular as well. Terms such as flipped, unlearning, unschooling, blended, and personalized have replaced standardized, testing, achievement, and gap. Our future administrators, legislatures, analysts, and directors are among the masses who were forced to work their way up the ladder traditionally but are promoting and advocating change exponentially.
This organization is one of those organizations whom I feel is taking a stand and declaring that enough is enough. Why? Because we know better, that’s why. To know to do good and to do it not is one of the greatest forms of injustice. Neuroscience tells us that there is a better way. Ei is bold and daring enough to take it, and to make a difference for change in how people wanting to learn Higher Education have a chance to achieve it. I want to be a part of this movement and to support you in that effort.