The Best Learning Is Experiential Learning

In our overseas mentoring program, we hold two values very highly:

  1. We don’t teach anything until there is a hunger to learn it.
  2. The best learning is experiential learning.

A hunger to learn a topic doesn’t always come by itself, so we have to find opportunities to create that hunger.  An example of this comes early in our three-month program: about day 14, we teach our students how to wash their clothes in a bucket.  We used to teach it on day 3, but then we found ourselves re-teaching it on day 14 because we discovered our students didn’t care on day 3.  By day 14, they are completely out of clean clothes and have resorted to wearing the least smelly garment they can find!  On day 14, they are paying very close attention and now we only have to teach it once.

The second value, “the best learning is experiential learning”, can be demonstrated again through the washing lesson.  When we teach this lesson, every student has to buy a bucket and some wash soap (reinforcing the previous “shopping in a market” lesson) and fetch their own water (reinforcing the previous “where and how do I find clean water” lesson) before we even begin this class.

Finally, it is time for everyone to roll up their sleeves and get started washing.  The instructor usually explains a few simple facts and then jumps in with the students and starts washing his dirty clothes.  After his first load, he leaves the students to their additional two-plus hours of “hands-on learning.”  This usually requires them to dump out their soapy, dirty water, get more clean water and keep washing.  Then the rinsing begins.  Lastly, they have to rig up a line and hang their clothes to dry.  Often, they don’t tie the line well and their wet clothes fall to the ground, filthy again.  Our students never tie a bad knot twice.

Our instructors know the proper steps to a task and are eager to teach our students those steps.  Teachers teach.  It has been difficult but extremely fruitful to develop instructors/mentors who wait until the student is stuck in a difficult problem before pulling them back to the beginning of an exercise and showing them the proper order of operations.