Life Lessons – Learning Through Our Experiences
Are you the type of person who believes that things happens for a reason? That there is a lesson in every experience you have and if you just pay attention, all the information you need to live life to the fullest is available to you? If you want to live your life with intention, then understanding and using the experiential learning process may just help you live life with more intention. Intentional living refers not simply to any way of life, but to a way of living that is chosen by an individual based on awareness of her/his values, personal needs, fundamental beliefs, and passions.
“Knowledge is experience, everything else is just information.” Albert Einstein
It is through our experiences where we gain the greatest knowledge about ourselves and the environment around us. The experiential learning process is what makes the connection between action and learning. First we do, then we reflect, and then we decide how to proceed with intention.
Remember back to learning to ride a bicycle. Your first step was to get on the bike and you probably fell a few times in the beginning. With feedback from your own body and from your biking coach, you reviewed the consequences of your actions and chose either to continue exactly the same way, or to take new and different action. What allowed you to master bike riding was your active participation and your reflection on your failures and successes. If you also reflected on how biking made you feel emotionally, you probably kept up with this activity if it was something that brought you joy. It wasn’t just about developing the skill of riding but also about tapping into your values and needs of speed, adventure, movement, and nature. Experience and reflection taught you more than any manual, lecture, or demonstration ever could.
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Oliver Wendall Holmes
A well used framework developed by Rolfe et al (2001) is a simple model of practising reflection after an experience. It can be a process facilitated by a coach, instructor, or teacher or it can be done independently by yourself. This process poses three main questions:
What? The focus is on describing the actual experience
So what? The focus is on what was learned from the experience
Now what? This identifies how the knowledge learned can be applied to the future.
I was introduced to this model more than 15 years ago when I attended my first Association of Experiential Learning International Conference. Since then, I have used the What? So what? Now what? questions for reflection in so many aspects of my life. With the young people I have worked with who have struggled with addictions, this experiential approach was used to engage them in alternative activities to drug and alcohol. The reflection part of the intervention allowed them to make a connection between their healthy activitychoice and the needs that they were meeting without drugs. I have also used reflection in my own life, and it has been especially useful when I have had challenging experiences. Although it took some time, this process helped me move from a place of despair and lose when I experienced a miscarriage to a place of freedom and new opportunity that allowed me to travel the world for a year. I have also taught this approach to others who work in the social services field and although the intention was to give them the skills to use this process in working with their clients, inevitably they applied the process to their own experiences and the life lessons they were presented.
“The meaning of things lies not in the things themselves, but in our attitude towards them.” Antoine de Saint Exupery