Experiential Teaching Methods Help Learners Retain Information

Some instructors deliver a lecture to learners, have a Q & A session, and expect learners to both retain the information and know how to apply their new found knowledge in real-life scenarios.

More than likely, learners will only retain a small part of the information, and not for very long.  Learners will then have to study from notes to pass exams.  Again, most of the information will not reside in long-term memory.

Instructors and curriculum designers must take reasonably for transferring knowledge, and for using methods that help learners retain information.

Providing opportunities for learners to practice what they have learned during class time, with short assignments, or demonstrated performance, are all effective ways of learning and teaching.

Application of knowledge solidifies the learning experience.  Known as experiential learning, some of the most widely used methods include role-playing, simulations, drills, and field trips.

One of my most successful experiential teaching experiences was when I was teaching a small class of about a dozen students.  I divided the students into two groups and had one side play the part of defending a topic while the other half played the prosecuting team.  I wasn’t teaching a law class, I was teaching an introduction to media studies course.

Simulations are time consuming to create, but are worth the time and effort because the students absorb themselves in the experience.  They are learning by doing, learning from the instructor, who provides debriefing interludes, and learners also learn from each other.

Be aware that some students will not react well to failing the first part of the simulation.  The entire experience is very stressful for them and they may withdraw themselves as much as possible from the simulation.  If you see this type of learner explain to him or her that they should try to participate as much as possible.  Learning through mistakes is a powerful learning opportunity.

Drills are used to teaching automatic reactions, such as when a jet fighter pilot has to eject from a plane.  In a smoke-filled cockpit, in a fighter that is spinning out of control, he cannot read a checklist or fumble for eject button.  The pilot has practiced this many, many times so that it is drilled into his head.  It is automatic, and will save the pilot’s life.

Drills are also used to learn a musical instrument.  Learning to play scales is used extensively when teaching the piano.  However, drills are tedious for students, usually no matter what they are learning.  It is best to motivate students by creating a game that uses the necessary drills.

Taking the students outside of the classroom into the working environment of the topic being taught is an excellent tool.  Field trips are often introduced in elementary school, such as a trip to the museum.

Students, no matter what age, will be able to transform some of their in-class knowledge into significant learning moments.  This is where all the dots can connect, which inspires students to learn and find out more.

Field trips should be structured and the instructor must offer additional information to help students connected their knowledge to how it can be applied.  Debriefing after the trip is also extremely important as is an after field trip Q & A session involving the entire class and instructor.

It is important that instructors do more than transfer information.  The vast majority of teachers are in the profession because they genuinely want students to learn the topic that the instructor is passionate about.  All that passion and knowledge will be lost unless instructors design curriculum employ methods to help learners retain knowledge.

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