The Experiential Approach
Experiential also known as constructivist based approaches to learning have been well established since the early twentieth century works of John Dewey and Jean Piaget with more recent contributions from such as psychologist David Kolb. The experiential approach seeks a transformation of experience in order to bring about change in the learner. While all learning aims to bring about change with the experiential approach through facilitation it is the learner themselves that brings about the change. It is this self-changing that deepens the experience making it personal, not as something they have had input but rather realised within themselves (citation). The main difficulty for most educators sympathetic to experiential approaches is the time available in a busy syllabus, access to suitable environments and persuading those with the budgets of its value (citation)It is not surprising then that the didactic approach where knowledge is transferred from the teacher to the learner then measured through exams predominates.
Education for Sustainable Development
Steven England from the The Art of Sustainability (AoS) is developing experiential approaches to Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). In his presentation to Teesnet’s 2018 conference he presented his work entitled Bringing the Outdoors inside Education. Steve has been collaborating with Dr Ron Johnston whose work for UNESCO Mahatma Gandhi Institute of Education for Peace and Sustainable Development (MGIEP) concerns developing textbooks for ‘embedding ESD into formal education to support the goal of achieving the seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s ) Johnson 2008. Steve’s focus has been on bringing an experiential dimension to this approach primarily by including the natural environment into ESD through bringing together meditation and mindfulness with outdoor activities such a fire building and outdoor cooking.
However here he presented his research into how to elicit similar affective (feelings, attitudes) responses in an indoor environment such as a classroom or meeting room by means of the arts. Steve demonstrated this in the session by asking for two volunteers and giving one natural material to hold, in this case a branch with lichen and the other nothing. He then ran a video that was of a meditative scene of bluebells and birdsong, eliciting feedback from the volunteers of a feeling of calm and well-being. This was followed by a second video where the scene is a river but the sound of nearby cars obliterates any natural sounds; feedback from the volunteers was a feeling of less calmness and well-being and in the case of the volunteer holding the branch, anger. This prompts the question what has changed after introducing human activity and technology and what do we want from our technology in respect to well-being opening an opportunity for ESD.
The final part was in regard to measurement of change through experiential approaches and how to keep to the measurement as a qualitative as possible rather than transposing to a quantitative representation i.e. Number or percentage. Steve presented example pictures from a research workshop pre-dating the conference where attendees in a blind test where first asked to draw a picture of a tree then after mindfulness and meditation activities again asked to draw a tree.As demonstrated below the change is from a primarily visual representation to one of intimacy and connectedness where attendees no longer referred to ‘a tree’ but rather ‘my tree’.
The conclusion of the research is that the Experiential approach offers a valuable toolbox to educators of ESD that can be provided both indoors and outdoors.