“Oh, was that ‘experiential learning’?!” Spaces, Synergies and Surprises with Kolb’s Learning Cycle

Tomkins, Leah and Ulus, Eda (2016). “Oh, was that ‘experiential learning’?!” Spaces, Synergies and Surprises with Kolb’s Learning Cycle. Management Learning, 47(2) pp. 158–178.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1350507615587451

Abstract

We share findings from empirical research into Kolb’s experiential learning (EL) approach, using our reflections as teachers and data from our undergraduate management students. The EL experience emerges as a space where bodies, feelings and ideas move and develop in intimate relationship with one another. This is a space where teachers exercise authority over, and commitment to, the here-and-now, risking corporeal and intellectual exposure. We probe the concept of experience in EL, suggesting that teachers require a kind of ‘experiential expertise’ to draw both on embodied felt sense and on what one has done in one’s own career to role-model the transformation of experience into knowledge, which is at the heart of Kolb’s theory. We explore a blurring of experiential agency, and the tendency for students to appropriate the teacher’s experience rather than dwell on or develop their own. For us, EL is more usefully seen as ‘relationship-centred’ than ‘student-centred’, and we contrast this relational focus with the way EL seems to have been popularised as anti-interventionist, a kind of educational ‘laissez-faire’. Based on these reflections, we suggest powerful connections between phenomenology and theories of space as a way of conceptualising the complexities and richness of teaching and learning experiences.

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