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We Need More Concrete!

David_KolbThe name is Kolb. David Kolb. OK, he’s not quite 007, but he is a constructivist, he has a warm smile and his work does get my heart pumping just the same.

If you haven’t heard of him, let me introduce you. He helped frame the experiential learning model which can really support our understanding of human learning behaviour, and how we as trainers can set up experiences that help others learn.

As Einstein said, “learning is experience. Everything else is just information.”

We all learn from our experiences. New experiences and the process of problem solving leads to acquisition of new skills. Mistakes and failed solutions contribute to experience and to learning. When we stop to reflect about what we have done, we can then come up with new ideas to try next. There is also a lot of relearning when we find out what we thought was right doesn’t work, or at least not all the time.

In basic terms the model shows four elements that work like a spiral.

  • Concrete/real experience
  • Reflection on that experience
  • Formation of concepts based upon the reflection
  • Testing the new concepts
  • Repeat process

You can start anywhere, but usually most trainers start at the concrete experience. As a training structure that follows this idea, trainers have also been known to use the Critical Reflection Model of three key questions: What? So what? Now what?

reflective_learning_modelWith words like experiential, practical, scenario based, problem based, inquiry based all being words that makes my inner trainer squeal with joy, I hope you can see why I support this model.


I also hope you can also see how well this model applies to training in the emergency services.

We know that there is no better training than real life experience… and the reflecting and debriefing that comes after this. We can’t always get the real experiences, but we can try to at least provide the concrete¬†hands on and simulated experiences as the next best thing. We absolutely must take the time to properly reflect and debrief after these practical activities and scenarios – this is where the learning really sticks in learner’s brains.

It is possible to tweak and restructure standard training sessions so that it is based on lots of concrete experiences and reflections. It does require the trainer to reconsider their role – to be a great questioner, a patient observer, a situation and problem poser, and someone that understands the value of making mis-takes.

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