Issues and Challenges

Experiential Learning vs. Textbook Learning

What is experiential learning and how it compares with textbook learning — make an informed decison for your child’s intellectual growth.

Learning is a process that has various forms and types as well as different approaches that have evolved to suit the requirements of time. What we have known until now is the textbook rote learning method that has been passed down from one generation to another and is considered a status quo form. The idea has been to know everything by the book, and pass with flying colours, but whether one is able to implement the learning practically or even remember it after the school year ends, has not been much of a priority.
As the world continues to evolve, it requires human resource that can keep pace and be flexible in terms of learning and understanding. The forms of learning done in early years and school age help to develop the right type of attitude required to understand and comprehend. Todsay, it is often argued upon as to which form of education is more effective — textbook learning or experiential form of learning. 
For many parents and children, the known form of learning is  textbook learning — the singular syllabus, defined classes and heavy schoolbags filled with heavy books and writing pads that children carry on their shoulders morning and after school. This form of learning has refined over the years, makes sense to majority and produces a handful of young people who are bright and position holders while the rest are considered average students based on the grades they attain at the end of every year. This form of learning does not necessarily take into account the capacity, ability and creativity of a child, which means that potential has yet to be tapped.
Experiential learning is a modern form of learning that has become very popular as a niche market. Learning with project-based assessment which compliments the age of the child and their brain’s learning capacity is the essence of experiential learning. An example of this form of learning is an early years’ school program at one of the daycares in the capital city (the go-to place for many parents working in the capital) where children are encouraged to learn colours from the everyday objects they can identify in the garden, kitchen, classrooms and from within their lunchbox. They are not shown the colours beforehand but are left to identify them and ask about each colour they come across as their brain processes the new information. Another example is of older children in Grade 3 of a prestigious school in Islamabad who are learning about the power of being confident and rightfully formed sentences by taking part in teaching a topic from a chapter or a paragraph from a single page to the entire class just like a teacher would. This is done with the assistance of the teacher and the chain is repeated throughout the class with kids taking the rostrum turn by turn. The aim is to enable children to learn to be vocal at a very young age and have the confidence to develop skills of speaking to a crowd of their peers without being shy.
I spoke to a few parents and they had varying opinions on the two forms of learning for their kids. Sadia Ashraf, a working woman who prioritizes her daughter's learning over anything else, has had massive experience with her 11-year-old being shifted between two experiential-based learning schools (The reason she shifted between two experiential schools was due to the shift in the management of both schools that resulted in less attention being paid to the kids and change in teaching skills), homeschooling and then eventually a textbook school. According to her, her daughter's personality has developed in the best way possible due to the schools that teach with interactive methods. One of the schools with experiential learning used to make the children solve their mathematical problems out in the playground with a chalk to make it a more fun way of learning. They were made to solve daily problems by the problems being written around the school and kids taking interest, reading and then providing their answers or reading the answers, as they would go. Another winning point for the mother was that the second such school had a teacher to child ratio of 6:1, which is a great opportunity for the child to get individual attention. Homeschooling ended up being another good decision up until the parents were unable to limit the depth of learning for the young child, fearing they might be teaching more than the child could comprehend. The eventual shift to textbook learning by the mother was only because they were unable to find a reputable experiential learning school for their 11-year-old, but she gives credit to her daughter's intellectual brain at such a young age to her early years not being based on rote learning.
On the other hand, Aden, a single parent, has always advocated for more textbook-oriented learning rather than focus on extracurricular activities to enhance learning. From her perspective, it makes the child casual towards future classes and that will make the child's survival in a competitive environment very difficult as well as when it is time to compete in professional life. Aden believes that the real world is more about who has more grades and how much they remember rather than wasting extra hours of the day on activities that will only give experiences to the child to remember but wouldn't help the child score. She shares her concern on schools spending more time on activities rather than classroom learning.
Adding to the above two arguments, not undermining the need and importance of excellent reading, writing and comprehension skills, it is very pertinent for kids to be able to start learning effectively by using all their senses to register and imprint the memory of their learning experience. As per Rhodes Wellness College website: "Experiential learning provides opportunities for immersive, hands-on learning through activities, work experience, projects, and problem solving." This also supports the concept of the Learning Curve as explained by Hermann Ebbinghaus that if the absorption rate of learning per day is, let's say, at 100, then the probability of loss of the information the very next day and onwards is 50% to 80% and learning comes down to a 2% to 3% at the end of a 30 days’ cycle. In a world where learning has come down to mere 140 characters and attention span has decreased, experiential and interactive learning has the capacity to imprint the learning done on the mind through experience and physical project-based activities that may come with any subject as planned by a teacher. 
Learning through doing utilizes critical thinking skills, problem solving methods, analysis and observations, and mistakes that are allowed to be made with more focus on how much is being learnt rather than how much one is scoring. Simulations are used in everyday problem depiction, be it any discipline and students are required to feel involved in the problem they are asked to solve. 
The pros of traditional learning, however, are hard to ignore for today’s generation that has achieved massive heights in their respective fields by being the best in what they chose to do. Traditional learning ensures in-depth learning and extensive understanding of any subject and also ensures a sense of competition to encourage and inculcate the habit of learning from a very young age. The motivation behind scoring the highest grades or holding a position prepares the child/student for competitiveness in their professional life. Sonia, a parent residing in Karachi with three school going kids, gives more leverage to traditional approach of education than anything else, as she believes that when children grow up and have to go out in the world they find themselves among “geniuses” who are on the loose, finding jobs and excelling in life.
Traditional learning still triumphs the education sector because parents are yet to be convinced about the opportunities and advantages of practical learning especially for children at a younger age. In Pakistan there are now plenty of institutions that have introduced and shifted entirely to practical-based, experiential learning. Parents here can now find an array of options to choose from to experiment and see the quality of learning from an interactive model of education or the rote model of learning. Children in their early years of education today are the leaders this country and that the world will have tomorrow. As the world evolves and changes even more, as they grow up, the right form of education is what will enable our future generations to cope and compete in a highly competitive world and achieve their goals of not just grades and trophies but also of understanding and remembering all that they have ever learned and to implement that in their lives. HH

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