FLIP: orientations to experiential learning at my workplace

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala

TOPICS: reflections, adult learning, experiential learning, Fenwick, constructivism, humanistic

WEEK 8 – Task 2: orientations to experiential learning

Link to forum

Link to blog

Fenwick, T. (2001) “Experiential Learning: A Theoretical Critique from Five Perspectives” Information Series No 385, ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career and Vocational Education now located at the Centre for Education & Training for Employment at Ohio State University, accessed on June 2, 2009 at http://www.uni-koeln.de/hf/konstrukt/didaktik/situierteslernen/fenwick1.pdf

Chapter 1


Experiential learning


Adult Education

John Dewey




Watskin and Marsick




I have two part-time jobs. One at a corporate art college, the other one teaching adults in the foreign language evening program at Seattle University. Since my hot issue took place at the art college, I will consider the questions for this task as they apply to that context

1) How prevalent do you feel ‘experiential’ learning is as the basis of an approach to adult learning in your workplace setting? What evidence do you draw on to reach this position?

My workplace is organized around a corporate framework that streamlines educational approaches across its network of colleges.

At first it would seem that my college has adopted many of the elements found in the constructivist-humanistic perspective, including an emphasis on student-centered teaching and critical thinking theories. This is reflected in the course syllabi.

In spite of a number of adult learners found among the students, adult learning practices are not specifically addressed and/or recognized.

Experiential learning, however, finds recognition in the coursework, as many of the college’s programs focus on the development of vocational skills.

2) Are you able to see evidence of either the progressive, humanist or radical orientation to adult learning (Fenwick, p.7) in your workplace? What ‘evidence’ do you call on in making your judgement?

Curricular activities cover a broad range of hands-on learning. I believe that the curricular competencies fall within the progressive and humanistic orientations.

Progressive: Students are made aware of the level of responsibility required in their educational path. They engage in problem-solving activities to become successful in their chosen fields.

Humanistic: The General Education Department emphasizes humanistic aspects by stressing student-centered theories and the development of students’ personal success though the reinforcement of self-awareness and self-actualization strategies. Teachers’ professional development across departments also relies on humanistic guidelines, as I realized during my teacher’s training, which emphasized student-centered learning. (I remember “The biggest enemy to learning is the talking teacher.” – John Holt)

Evidence of these two orientations is found in course documents and school policies.

3) Which of the orientations do you feel best captures your own approach/ orientation as a learning practitioner in your workplace?

As a teacher in the General Education department I am comfortable with a humanistic approach augmented with problem-solving strategies as suggested in the progressive orientation.

However, in the case of my hot issue, which focuses on the intercultural communication learning dimension, I would argue that a radical approach would be more suitable to examine, discuss, and challenge cultural discourses, assumptions, issues of representations and otherization, and personal narratives. A radical orientation could be more effective at uncovering and possibly overcoming issues of oppression, cultural relativism and essentialism, and ultimately addressing the imbalances that are still part of our social and educational models.

4) Is there an alignment between your orientation and the orientations that are enacted in your workplace? Does this matter

At first I connected well with the humanistic-constructivist perspective at my workplace. Later, through my own self-reflections and from conversations with the director of General Education, I have become more aware of the corporate ‘hidden goals” and the “business as usual” power-oriented mentality that influence the academic environment.

Does this matter? Absolutely. At the very least, it makes the humanistic orientation in our teacher training sound phony; and at its worse, it makes the curriculum and relevant coursework look like the usual assembly line of traditional education, so beautifully described by Chappel et al (2002):

“Today, epistemological discourses emphasise knowledge constructed as practical, interdisciplinary, informal, applied and contextual over knowledge constructed as theoretical, disciplinary, formal, foundational and generalisable.” (Chappell et al, 2000, p. 2)

Adult education is important to me:

Because it allows people to create an alternative path to personal development and education, and creates an arena for opportunities that would be otherwise restricted to younger learners. It also allows for broader, less academic discussion of issues that are important to many.

It achieves a more generalized level of active citizenship and participation across many generational, social, cultural and gender barriers.

It fosters personal responsibility for one’s own participation both in society and in one’s personal self-actualization.


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