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Staying open and engaged through experiential learning

Everyone has a different learning style. Some people can retain information just by listening to a lecture; others need videos to get the concept to stick; still others require hands-on tools or something more tactile. Whether you learn best through flashcards or acronyms, there’s no “one size fits all” approach to learning and memory retention.

If you find yourself bored during lectures, distracted throughout a presentation or zoning out while working through a textbook, it might be time to try something new. Or, perhaps you just get it – the material makes sense, it clicked in your brain, and now you’re ready to put it into practice or move on to the next topic. 

Here’s the good news: there’s a solution for unengaged minds and the disjointed headspace, and it’s an approach that can be tailored to fit each individual learner. Called the experiential learning cycle, it’s guaranteed to help fast learners stay engaged and motivated, also encouraging those tactile-kinesthetic learners to engage the material with their hands. 

Experiential Learning Cycle 

The experiential learning cycle, as designed by David Kolb, describes the process of learning, helps you understand the way you learn and gives you the tools you need to control your learning and mental model creation. As Kolb himself defines it, “There are two goals in the experiential learning process. One is to learn the specifics of a particular subject, and the other is to learn about one’s own learning process.” 

The experiential learning cycle is an ongoing process of experiencing, reflecting, thinking and acting. You fully encounter an experience, and then reflect upon it and the perspective you have/had of it. This leads to thinking about what the experience meant and the conclusions you were able to reach. Finally, acting is trying out or experimenting with what you learned. 

In context, it would look like this: you visit a climbing gym and experience the training session; you reflect on it, arriving at the perspective that it’s an enjoyable activity; you conclude that you want to try it, and act by trying your hand at the climbing wall. 

Experiential Learning and Therapy 

Sitting down face-to-face with a psychiatrist to discuss substance use problems can understandably be daunting for some. That’s one of the reasons why experiential learning is a popular therapy tool: clients can enjoy a much more comfortable environment where the attention isn’t solely on their traumatic or painful memories. Instead, they’re focusing their attention on something else entirely, something which redirects their mind and helps break down the reservations which a direct conversation might cause.

It’s important for fast learners to enjoy tasks which pique their interest. These tasks shouldn’t be useless entertainment, but should serve a purpose in recovery. This is where experiential learning activities can be especially important in one’s continued journey toward recovery.  

Experiential Learning Activities 

Experiential activities allow individuals struggling with substance use to actively work through obstacles without the threat of life’s challenges. Especially with regard to active tasks like hiking or simply walking outdoors, simple action can provide an outlet through which experiential learners can process emotions, feelings and thoughts. And finally, they can help recenter one’s mind and reduce tensions or traumas found within the body itself.

  • Adventure: This includes rock climbing, hiking, ropes courses, or kayaking and canoeing. These can help with communication and problem-solving, and can present physical challenges which require a change in behavior to meet the challenge. 
  • Equine-assisted therapy: Animals can offer incredible healing opportunities, adding peaceful presence to any environment. Plus, this care requires a transition of thinking away from oneself to considering the needs of another.
  • Mindfulness: Meditation exercises help with recentering the body, and they allow passing thoughts to be just that – passing. Breathing aids in reducing tension in the body, by recognizing points of tension and allowing release by breathing into those areas. Additionally, yoga, which is more physically active than meditation, allows for breathing to be synced with the movements of the body for a more balanced mentality.
  • Art: Art offers a truly boundless opportunity for self-expression. Whether painting, sculpting, drawing or dancing, it is only up to the imagination of the creator. Art is a powerful method of release and allows one to work through thoughts and emotions at a pace most conducive to your own growth.

Putting experiential learning to work for you

Experiential learning doesn’t stop after the activity is completed. It can continue in many ways, sometimes through discussion with a therapist regarding what the client was feeling or thinking throughout the activity. Perhaps sore muscles from paddling a kayak would remind them the next day of their successful maneuvering of the boat, or their painting would remind them of a time when they overcame a huge obstacle and now represents a moment of hope.

If you’re ready to put experiential learning to work as a part of a concentrated effort to leave substance use habits behind and pursue freedom, we’re ready to help. Real Recovery in Asheville, North Carolina offers sober living housing for both men and women looking to take charge of life’s substance use challenges. Call (855) 363-7325 today, or reach out online to take your first step toward putting substance use therapy – including experiential learning – to work for you.

No matter what kind of experiential learning you choose, remember the cycle – we never stop learning, we only build on what we’ve experienced before. And for those active, fast-moving learners, it’s important to keep them engaged through experiential learning for greater success in recovery.