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.

Why EDP?

This year we are about to celebrate the completion of 15 years of producing highly skilled design graduates. In the past 15 years, we prepped and guided all kinds of students, coming from different walks of life. With a solid cross-sectional insight into the problems faced by students while studying design and combining that with the future of the design industry, we designed a course that solves one of the most pressing matters of this generation and the ones we can foresee for the consequent ones as well. 

Let’s take a deeper look into some of these problems to better understand the impending doom in the education sector of India. 

  1. By now, it’s a known fact that young adults these days have an attention span of a goldfish, the entire social media culture has ensured that. And with the rapid advancement of technology, the youth is continuously exposed to witch-crafts of the generation, like Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality and Artificial Intelligence. However, majority of the education in India still remains within the confines of a classroom. No matter how much we want to blame the “millennial” for their growing disinterest in education, we cannot hide from the simple truth that the methodologies we follow are rather outdated. We cannot expect these highly exposed technologically advanced generation to sit through an hour of just verbal lecture, especially with their much shorter attention spans, when they can be out there doing something much cooler. It becomes the responsibility of the education providers to create a system that inspires a student to learn. Instead we are depending on an education system that banks on the teaching methodologies of decades ago for a generation that doesn’t want to stop moving. The growing disinterest among students simply brings to light the insufficiency of the classroom teaching method. 
  1. Students of today like to spend most of their time over digital experiences, be it involvement in mobile phones, television, computers or some of the more fortunate even have VR goggles at their perusal. Infact, it would be wrong to say that this is just the case with youngsters, because aren’t we all increasingly being pulled into the digital world? Quite honestly, the digital world has its own benefits but it has also led to a growing disconnect with the real world and the real people around us. Yes, we have achieved great things technology wise but it’s no secret that there are certain things that cannot be replicated or compensated by technology. For example, no amount of technological advancement can recreate the comfort one gets by hugging a loved one or the feeling of joy when you meet a random stranger who has the same music taste as you let alone recreate the enchantments of nature! No matter the time or age, one cannot replace human interaction and interaction with nature with any intelligence. These experiences teach us, mould us and impact us as humans most effectively. The sad part? These experiences are becoming rarer with time. 
  1. Classroom learning only deals with theories. We as academicians understand the importance of teaching these theories to students but after years of handling students we consistently noticed how students learn better when they are themselves involved in doing something. Expecting students to know how to apply things they have only read and wrote about in college as soon as they graduate is like expecting to learn swimming just by reading about it. Moreover, tackling a subject practically adds a lot of factors into play as opposed to just theorising about it. When students, subjected to years of classroom teaching that keeps them within the limits of the classroom, graduate, they are not ready to enter an industry like design that is brutal and requires copious amounts of practical experience. 
  1. The inefficiencies of the methodology is also evident in the statistics that claim that over a massive 48% of graduates in India will be unemployable in the coming years, due to the increasing skill gap. The skill gap is the difference in the demand of various skill-sets required in employees for the coming age of automation and the absence of these skills in the graduates of today. These statistics claim that the students we are pushing out into the market today don’t have the necessary skills to stay afloat in the nearing future. With automation on the rise, we require people who are problem solvers and critical thinkers, and with the classroom learning experience, we are only producing rot learners. While the focus should be on design thinking, most colleges in India only focus on teaching different sofware.

Taking all of these problems as challenges, we designed a Design Program that focuses not just on remedying problems but also progresses towards an evolved teaching methodology keeping up with the evolution in us, humans. 

Experiential Design Program as the name suggests takes inspiration from the pedagogy of experiential learning, and combines that with the solid educational foundations and expertise of NICC. We aim to rebuild interest in education and produce industry ready graduates for the future by letting the student out of the classroom.