Experiential learning in youth work in the UK: a return to Dewey
Experiential learning has explicitly, since the publication of the Kolb 'treatise' been a cornerstone of youth work practice in the UK. It is the contention of this paper that there is a significant misinterpretation of Kolb's theory by those who have applied his theory to youth work. Not least that experience is framed as: 'concrete experience' and therefore something 'other' or additional to the life experience of those being educated. This concrete experience is interpreted in youth work as the undertaking of discrete activities upon which, via subsequent reflection, learning is elicited. What is argued in this paper is that what is required is a return to the formulation of experiential education conceived of by Dewey which locates 'lived experience' at the heart of the educational process. For Dewey experience involves a dual process of understanding and influencing the world around us, as well as being influenced and changed ourselves by that experience, what Dewey referred to as 'trying' and 'undergoing'. This important aspect of experiential learning is omitted from the interpretation of Kolb as a simplistic four-stage learning cycle, though not ironically from his own theory. Finally learning by experience is according to Dewey necessarily concerned with growth and therefore lifelong education—in addition a commitment to Dewey implies rather than denies a curriculum in youth work, a point that those who advocate experiential learning tend to deny.
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