Teaching is a noble profession, and since ancient times, teachers have been revered like saints. While the position of a teacher still holds the same reputation, teaching methods have been under scrutiny for quite some time. The debate of traditional versus experiential learning is still ongoing.
Depending on the subjects, age group, and professional demands, the teaching profession is undergoing a series of modifications so that the learning needs of all types of learners can be accommodated.
Amidst these modifications, experiential and traditional learning methods must be fully explored. Hence, this post below attempts to explain the main differences between the two and weigh them against each other.
Experiential Learning Vs. Traditional Learning: Exploring meanings
Traditional learning is synonymous with a traditional 4-walled classroom setting, where lectures are delivered through books and teachers. In contrast, experiential learning is free and flexible, including experimentation with the regular classroom setting.
However, the main difference in pedagogy is the use of pure theory and personal experiences, perspective sharing, and practical exposure in the former.
Nevertheless, traditional learning settings have now started combining experiential methods to enrich students’ knowledge, and contemporary teaching methods are a mixture of both conventional and experiential teaching approaches.
Let’s talk about the advantages!
To understand the difference and assess which of the two is better, it is crucial to understand the advantages of both experiential and traditional learning. Hence, below are the few benefits that both models of learning possess.
1. Suitable for young students
Many theorists working on intelligence have pointed out that a child goes from acquiring information to reflecting and modifying it. Traditional learning can be the best in the early stages when the child is a blank slate. Early learning, such as alphabets, numbers, and names, need to be memorized; hence, for young children, route learning and traditional formats work well.
Traditional learning format inculcates self-regulation and discipline in a child. It also instills respect for the educator and years of classroom ethics, helping children to develop a routine and a range of habits to enhance their learning.
Educators and students who prefer route learning over an experiential understanding or analysis due to personal reasons or time constraints mostly adopt the traditional learning approach. The inability to understand mathematical concepts is why rote learning is still popular among students.
4. Enhances short-term memory
Short-term contains all the recently acquired information for a brief time. Even though traditional learning fails in delivering long-term retention, it has been observed that practices involved in route learning can help students to exceed their short-term memory capacities.
5. Partially Creative
Traditional learning methods are accused of being monotonous, repetitive, and dull. However, only some aspects of traditional learning are completely out of touch with creativity. Poems, rhymes, and songs need to be learned; however, they have a creative side that many don’t forget, even in old age.
Experiential learning is a form of teaching susceptible to disapproval and criticism. As the concepts are explained on a real-life basis, they are subjected to extra scrutiny and can be easily tested. Another reason experiential learning is very evaluation-friendly is that, unlike rote learning, which only leads to good academic records, experiential learning provides an assessment of both academic knowledge and practical learning.
Educators adopting the experiential learning model often give a personalized touch by sharing their experiences or encouraging the students to do the same. Owing to this root-level comprehension, students can better retain and recall what has been taught in the class.
Experiential learning is the bridge between traditional learning and practical application. Teachers enriching the factual concepts with their own experiences, creativity, and activity-based learning is what makes students confident enough to approach the practical arena.
Experiential learning can also be called reflection-oriented learning or teaching. Using experiences to draw inferences about a concept, for instance, a teacher explaining sexism based on the kind of experiences they encountered, can be much more enlightening for the listeners. Such a reflection-oriented classroom will help students to extrapolate learnings of their life events.
5. Enhances Communication and Articulation
Reflection enhances both communication and articulation. The experiential learning classroom, especially an appreciative one, will ensure that the inner dialogue is expressed. Thus, there are more opportunities for students to grow and develop their communication skills and overcome the fear of social expression in the experiential learning format.
What about drawbacks?
Like everything in life, experiential and traditional learning have their downsides. Hence, below mentioned are the disadvantages of the modules.
1. Poor retention
Traditional learning treats every aspect of a concept as a fact, which then calls for rote learning for the rescue. Ebbinghaus’s forgetting curve also posits that when semantics aren’t comprehended, retention and recall of information would be poor. Poor retention is a concern for learners and a stumbling block for educators employing this method.
2. Lack of introspection
Introspecting on what one has memorized and what one is delivering as knowledge is hardly possible when the subject matter is treated like God’s word. Lack of reflection on what has been internalized is why traditional learning cannot bestow practical skills to the learners.
Reading books in class, copying information from slides, and taking notes dictated by a teacher, are all manifestations of a traditional learning environment. The one-to-one dialogue and classroom discussions create a space to explore the content fully. However, the lack of the same makes it passive and prone to forgetfulness.
Traditional learning follows a fixed schedule and a fixed environment. This lack of flexibility leads to monotony, distraction, and lack of focus in the students. Monotony also delivers dull content and consistently leads to poor retention and recall.
5. Lack of creativity
Most traditional educators refrain from using creative mediums to add vim and vigor to the educational space. When the students observe teachers being hesitant with new ideas, they, too, feel anxious about adopting new ways of learning. Lack of creativity is also responsible for intolerance towards differing or new perspectives.
1. Time Consuming
Experiential learning involves more brainstorming and application based delivering of content. Hence, it requires more time for both teachers and students. For instance, holding a class discussion on important concepts will require much more time than what is taken in a traditional format.
2. Lack of objectivity
One of the biggest drawbacks of experiential learning is the lack of objectivity. As instances provided to provide conceptual clarity can be very subjective, and others might add their inputs, there is a possibility of losing objectivity. Sometimes, abstract concepts can be very subjective, and hence, the answer cannot be a yes or no, so experiential learning can be misunderstood or mistaught.
Experiential learning involves application, introspection, and reflection, thus, asking for a major contribution from the teacher. Even though experiential learning helps the teacher explain concepts, coming up with them would require the educator always to be prepared and facilitate free-flowing discussions in class.
Experiential learning is associated with practical exposure. For the educator to make the arrangement, extra resources are required. Sometimes, even arranging a guest lecture to shed light on practical aspects of a subject can call for extra expenditure. Hence, programs having an experiential framework are expensive.
5. Not Universal
Contrary to popular belief, experiential learning is inapplicable or hard to apply to many situations. Another disadvantage associated with its specific nature is the different perspectives of people, which can lead to a conflict of interest or confusion. For instance, while some educators would train students to be a jack of all trades, others might focus on one skill development.
|Traditional Learning||Experiential Learning|
|Classroom Environment||Passive and uninterested||Engaged|
|Strategies adopted||LecturesStrictly following textbooksMemorizing conceptsWatching videos||Classroom discussionsRole-playsArranged sessions with trained personnel|
|Skills required||Fast typingGood short-term memoryGood listening skillsFamiliarity with abbreviationsOrganizing skills||Reflection and introspectionLogical reasoningEmpathyAbstract reasoningCreativity|
|Age-group suitability||Young students||Older students|
Which one is better for individuals with LD?
Learning disability (LD) is a condition in which an individual struggles with one or more academic subjects. LDs are far more common than what schools report, which is why most students struggle with conventional teaching practices. At the same time, special educators are always looking for teaching methods and materials personalized to the needs of students diagnosed with such learning problems, as the benefits of traditional learning are far less for such students. However, there needs to be more research on experiential teaching methods and their impact on students with special needs. The study1 by Susan Vos, and Chase Kooyman et al., states that several barriers affect the accommodation of special needs students in the experiential learning framework.
Is one more effective than the other?
Traditional and experiential learning have to be employed in a regular classroom to educate better and train the students. Accumulating Practical knowledge would be a tough battle without a solid theoretical base. Of course, experiential learning is more effective, but that doesn’t mean traditional learning can be ruled out from the classroom. In a study2 by Majed Alkharashi, it was ascertained that experiential learning theory resulted in greater knowledge retention.
Traditional and experiential learning have their own strengths and weaknesses, and neither can be completely discarded in the classroom. Progressing from route learning to experiential learning shapes the mindset of students toward practical knowledge and personal reflection. However, the wants and requirements of students being catered to should be educators’ first-class priority.
- Vos, S., Kooyman, C., Feudo, D., Goliak, K. L., Kieser, M., Legg, J., Parent-Stevens, L., Walker, P. C., & Rodriguez, R. (2019). When Experiential Education Intersects with Learning Disabilities. American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, 83(8), 7468. https://doi.org/10.5688/ajpe7468
- Alkharashi, M. (2020). Comparing experiential versus conventional learning on knowledge retention for teaching surgery to medical graduates. Saudi Journal of Ophthalmology, 34(2), 107. https://doi.org/10.4103/1319-4534.305042