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Experiential Community Service Learning Projects

Please cite as follows: Chan, CKY (2015). "Experiential Community Service Learning Projects", Engineering Education Enhancement and Research Asia (E3R Asia).

Educational Theories behind Experiential Learning (taken from Chan, 2012)

The underlying philosophy of experiential learning is based on John Dewey's theory. Dewey (1938) proposes that the nature of experience is continuous, and the experiential learning process is of fundamental importance to education and adult development. He believes that experience, inquiry and reflection are the key elements in experiential learning. This corresponds to Jean Piaget's cognitive development of experiential learning. Piaget (1999) emphasizes learning as a lifelong process of discovering knowledge, assimilation and accommodation of learning from experience and knowledge. Lewin (Smith, 2001) developed a four stage cycle of action research with reflection, planning, action and observation. Building from the theories of these philosophers, Kolb explored the processes associated with the perception of concrete experiences and the different type of learning styles associated with each process. He developed a holistic model of experiential learning process that is known as the Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory.

The Learning Theory defines experiential learning as "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience" and is continuous (Kolb, 1984). Kolb's model portrays a 4-stage learning cycle, namely Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation (see Figure 1). It requires the learner to experience, reflect, think and act in a cyclic process in response to the learning situation and what is learnt. Concrete experience is gained when the learner actively experiences and performs. Through the process of reflective observation, the learner consciously reflects and draws conclusion on their experience. Based on these implications, in the third stage of abstract conceptualization, learner can conceptualize a theory or model and utilize these generalizations as guides to engage in further action and experiment with different scenarios in the final cycle of active experimentation. The cycle is ongoing and it involves both concrete components and conceptual components which require a variety of cognitive and affective behaviors (Kolb, 1976). According to Kolb, for one's learning to fully transform into one's understanding, the learner must confer to the components of the learning cycle, however, the learning cycle can begin at any one of the four points as stated by Kolb and Fry (1975). Drawing from Kolb's Learning Theory, he also established the "conversational learning" approach whereby learners construct meaning and transform experiences into knowledge through conversations (Kolb, Baker & Jensen, 2002).


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  • Kolb, D. A., Baker, A. C., & Jensen, P. J. (2002). Conversation as experiential learning. In A. C. Baker, P. J. Jensen & D. A. Kolb (Eds.), Conversational learning: An experiential approach to knowledge creation (pp. 51-66). Westport, Conn.: Quorum Books.
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  • Piaget J. (1999). The psychology of intelligence. London: Routledge.
  • Smith, M. K. (2001). Kurt Lewin: Groups, experiential learning and action research. The encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved 29 Jul, 2013, from http://infed.org/mobi/kurt-lewin-groups-experiential-learning-and-action-research/
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