Student Tales: Bursting the bubble

Last year we set on our first experiential journey with the design students of NICC. It was a carefully planned five day journey imbued with immersive experiences. These experiences were of various natures, we stayed in the lap of nature, were inspired by ancient architecture, tasted spirituality up-close, and even understood design from the perspective of a local handicraft community. Since, the students also had to complete a project based on this journey, they had to reflect upon these experiences and deliver.

A lot changed over this journey, apart from all things design, we connected, we shed our inhibitions and we got inspired. We definitely saw all the benefits we were expecting to see through experiential learning, but we realised that what we expected was just the tip of the iceberg, a lot of what happens through these experiences and journeys is much like the larger concealed part of the iceberg. 

After a complete year from the time we returned from our experimental endeavour, having let the experience permeate and brew well, we talked to students regarding their side of the story. While everyone had a lot to say, one story that encapsulates the essence of the journey is Inder’s. While we have already talked at length about the academic and professional advantages of experiential learning, Inder’s story talks about the impact such a journey can have on an individual, personally. 

When we set out from Bangalore, Inder was nervous and unsure about the whole journey. His nervousness stemmed from his introversion. He plain admits how before the journey, he disliked the company of people in general. Being brought up in a highly protected environment he liked the company of his solitude and often times found the company of people rather annoying. That translated even in his attitude around the college itself. He had limited interactions even with his peers and liked to dwell in his own little bubble. He confessed that he almost considered just ditching the plan and getting off the bus. He had never travelled with friends before and he wasn’t very thrilled about it either. 

With such uncertainties and reluctance going on within Inder, we reached our first stay that was in Chikmagalur. Here we had a beautiful stay, with a swimming pool that the students thoroughly enjoyed, meditative sessions that opened up our minds for the experience awaiting us and at night we all bundled up in bunk-bed dormitories, students and teachers alike. But in the midst of all this, Inder found his solace. 

When we reached the stay, Inder was immediately drawn to the stable. He revealed how he had had a pony since he was young whom he had grown very attached to and whose unfortunate demise he deeply grieved. So when he saw a horse stable, his excitement overshadowed his inhibitions. He went up to the stable and immediately connected with the horse there, it reminded him of his own little pony and he still emphasizes how riding the horse was the highlight of the journey for him. It was during this ride that Inder came out of his bubble. He felt so connected with the horse that everything else going over his head just vanished. In his excitement, he went over to talk with the stable-boy and had the longest conversation with a stranger, ever. It was then that he realised people aren’t that bad afterall. He was surprised by how much he actually enjoyed talking to a stranger and with this new found spirit Inder was not so unsure about the journey anymore. 

Inder opened up and talked to everyone possible throughout the journey and he admits that he actually liked all of it. This experience made him understand the importance of socialising and human interactions. 

Everyone noticed this change in Inder and it warmed many hearts. As of today, Inder is no more a shy boy hiding in his bubble, instead he is confident and social. Some of his peers still find it amusing to see this change in him overnight, and it wouldn’t have been possible without this journey. 

Yes, these journeys will teach you a lot about design and design thinking, give you an on-field experience and inspire you, but these journeys will also touch pristine corners of your heart and help you grow as an individual. We now understand that the scope of these experiential journeys go beyond academic interests.

Just imagine if one single close-packed experiential journey could accomplish so much, what will a complete course designed with many extensively immersive journeys achieve? That is what we are excited about!

Experiential Learning and EDP

What is Experiential Learning? 

Experiential Learning as theorised by David Kolb who was greatly influenced by the works of theorists like John Dewey and Kurt Lewis, is a learner-centric learning process through which learners acquire knowledge, skills and values by being exposed to certain new experiences outside of the traditional classroom setting.

Deceived by the name people often think that experiential learning is only about learning from experiences. However, that is just a superfluous understanding of the methodology. Experiential Learning in its purest form means “learning through reflections on doing” as stated in the Handbook for Research on Improving Learning and Motivation through Educational Games. Thus, contrary to popular belief the ‘experience’ is just a tool and not the basis of the pedagogy. The combination of ‘experience’ with reflection is what embodies experiential learning.

Experiential learning thus is a more holistic approach to learning as compared to other methodologies like cognitive and behavioral theories, the former emphasises on mental processes while the latter ignores the effects of subjective experiences in the process of learning. The theory of experiential learning takes a holistic approach by emphasizing on how experiences like cognition, emotions and environmental factors affect and influence the learning process.

the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming the experience.

David Kolb on experiential learning

Therefore, it is a systematic method that involves distinctive steps which are grasping of the Experience and the transformation of the experience. 

Grasping of Experience can be achieved through two approaches

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Abstract Conceptualisation

Whereas, the two modes of  transforming of experience are

  1. Reflective Observation
  2. Active Experimentation

These four modes defined by Kolb are often depicted as a cycle to clearly outline the process of Experiential Learning. According to the theory Concrete Experience is the hands-on experience that is a new territory for the learner and often times out of the learner’s comfort zone. These experiences become the basis for Reflective Observation wherein both feeling and action during the experience are reflected upon like what was the problem faced and what could have been done better. Through these reflections we assimilate information to form new abstract concepts about the world or the experience, this is termed as Abstract Conceptualisation. Then the learner tests these new theories that he/she devised through reflection on the experience, this is called Active Experimentation. Testing the devised theory in a real world setting, becomes a new experience for the learner and the learner again assimilates information from the experience to reflect upon and the cycle continues. 

In-effect Experiential Learning:

1. Builds on past experiences and knowledge

2. Requires active involvement of the learner

3. Boosts collaboration and exchange of ideas and perspectives among peers

4. Encourages reflection, critical analysis and synthesis

5. Promotes taking initiative and making decisions among learners

6. Provides opportunities to engage with surroundings and people intellectually, socially, spiritually and physically.

7. Provides a platform for learners to learn from natural consequences and failures on field

8. Promotes Interdisciplinary learning, giving learners the opportunity to learn about other fields

9. Increases cultural and social awareness

10. Facilitates a holistic development of professional, intellectual and leadership skills, all of which contribute towards career development.

How Experiential Learning supports EDP?

Agreeing that design at its heart is all about problem solving, these words by Tim Brown encapsulates our argument, “Design is all about learning from doing, that’s how we evolve to the best solution.”

Experiential Learning provides us with the opportunity to facilitate exploration, discovery and innovation in real world settings among students. Making them not only more industry ready but also help them grow to become a conscious and aware designer. When we decided to start a program as such, what we also envisioned is helping students gain a broader horizon to enrich their perspectives. We don’t just want to produce great designers but also build a community of conscientious and connected individuals. 

However, in the face of reality a curriculum cannot be just based on experiences, as acquisition of technical knowledge is just as important. To make this functional and effective, we are going to combine the best of experiential learning with classroom teaching. Each journey will complement the objective of the quarter, and help students to successfully complete the quarterly project that is assigned twice every semester.