Moving Towards experiential Learning

Dr. Vishal Talwar, Dean, BML Munjal UniversityAn alumnus of Manchester Business School, Dr. Vishal has research & consulting interests in customer portfolios, marketing resource allocation, and consumer ethics. He has been awarded a doctoral scholarship by the Shell Oil Company. Prior to Joining BMU, he was the Head of Campus (Mumbai) and Assistant Dean with S.P. Jain School of Global Management.

The global nature of education today requires Indian Higher Educational Institutions (HEIs) to accelerate themselves towards a more reflective & application-based approach to learning. This would ensure higher rates of employability and the ability to harness the challenges posed by the influx of automation, big data, artificial intelligence and many others. According to experts, it is not that the millennial generation does not like learning, they surely do. It is just that they may not like how they are being taught currently.

It is up to us as academic institutions to sustain and build on the demographic dividend, lest it becomes a demographic nightmare with poor skills and depleted motivation levels amongst the younger generation. Students at higher-level degree courses often face great difficulty in under-standing the application of concepts than remembering those. This peculiarity manifests later as a source of frustration amongst employers who would like candidates to demonstrate economic value from day one itself.

An immersive experiential approach is now being implemented by the younger forward thinking educational institutions in India to differentiate themselves, as well as their student crop in the highly dynamic world of work. The author is a firm proponent of the above approach to learning that is not based around a piece meal strategy but infused into the DNA of the institution. Individual flashes of creativity and intellectual brilliance is existent in many institutions, but an organisation wide consistency in higher educational standards is the need of the hour if the above mentioned approach needs to be impactful. Sadly, experiential learning is far more prevalent as a buzzword than as a meaningful practice in the educational firmament. So, what is experiential learning exactly?

Experiential learning is inarguably one of the most powerful forms of
learning. It is learning through experience or more precisely through reflection on doing. Is it something new? Not exactly. From a very young age, we've all had an encounter with experiential learning when we tried to walk, fell and of course started walking again. In the end, it all became possible. My daughter was learning to cycle a couple of months ago and for some reason, she was always half pedalling and I kept telling her to do a full pedal and she just could not do it. One day suddenly, she called-out to me and when I saw her, she was actually doing a full pedal. I was obviously overjoyed. How did she learn this? I am not too sure; but I have a strong feeling that David Kolb's experiential learning cycle had something to do with it. My daughter's brain consciously began to make sense of all the information available. She was constantly going through this process of doing, thinking, concluding, adapting till one day she was able to do exactly that ­ full pedal.

A collaborative approach where faculties engage with each other, help each other out, supported by international & national experts who train them, makes the challenging task doable and interesting

This continuous (Kolb's) cyclical process of experiencing, reflecting, conceptualising and experimenting should be ingrained as much as possible into every curriculum. This approach should be reinforced by the use of technology, blended learning approaches, simulation, gaming, as well as the coveted case based approach to provide immersion, build reflection and enhance decision-making capabilities. Notwithstanding the many advantages of traditional teaching, research has shown that incorporating experiential learning in the pedagogy augments overall learning. Experiential in-class activities enhance the quality of interactions between the students and the faculty, as the faculty no longer act as a `sage on the stage', but assume a supporting role of a facilitator or a `guide on the side', enabling the students to learn by themselves.

Well-designed experiential learning environments contain pedagogical elements that help the student explore, navigate, and comprehend more information about a dynamic system that cannot be obtained through the process of being passive listeners in class. Some ways in which a HEI can integrate this experiential approach into their learning delivery are given below:

1. Creative visualisation of practice
2. Role play & prototyping
3. Collaboration & working in virtual teams
4. Ethical leadership oriented social entrepreneurship initiatives
5. Technology-based gamification

Of course, this transformation is not easy, especially when both faculty and the student have been programed for so many years to believe that the end objective is a good score in the examinations. It would thus require a major transformational change in thought and action at all levels within HEIs. Delving deeper into faculty-centric issues, one of the prime challenges is the creativity and effort required by the faculty to constantly adopt new methods of teaching and instruction. This requires pedagogical and content-related training at repeated intervals. However, a collaborative approach where faculties engage with each other, help each other out, supported by international & national experts who train them, makes the challenging task doable and interesting. Mandatory training programs would need to be conducted to sensitize and motivate the management educators towards trying new pedagogical initiatives, develop their own, and effectively implement them in their courses.