When planning to teach, you can’t pick anything and teach; at first, you need to create a context in which learners can analyze themselves, their social formations and their lives.
And being an educator, the goal should be to create a balance between theory and practice. This is possible by practising experiential learning methodology in teaching. By experiential learning, we mean learning from life experience, often distinguished with lecture and classroom learning. On the other hand, Keeton and Tate (1978) defined it as a learning methodology in which the learner is directly in touch with the realities being studied. It is contrasted with the learner who only reads, hears, talks, or writes about these realities but never comes into contact with them as part of the learning process. The sole purpose of including it is that it can assist educators in transforming their pedagogical practices to more deeply engage their students and improve their learning outcomes.
We can bifurcate the term “experiential learning” into two for a better understanding, which clearly depicts that we “learn by gaining experience.” And, an educator is the one who has the power to frame and facilitate these experiences for students to help them grow, flourish and reach their full potential. However, when embracing experiential education, educators must not allow the idea of an educational experience to be contrasted into the ironic and simplistic intonation that students “learn by doing,” as if any “doing” can be detached from cognitive thought processes. The learning must have two sides to the psychological and the sociological; also include the cognitive and affective domains and the social and physical domains. Eventually, this approach will help keep learners deeply engaged in their own learning.
Amidst all, this experiential learning approach calls out for the ECHO model. This model is forged out of Kolb’s experiential learning model. John Dewey has introduced it. ECHO stands for E – (Explore), An inquiry-based approach to what participants know and wants to learn. C- (Create) Opportunity for learners to participants to have a common experience. H- (Harvest) Invitation for participants to reflect on their common experience and 0-(own) A suggestion for participants to transform and transfer their experiences for use in their context.
Before understanding the ECHO model, we need to understand Kolb’s “Experiential Learning Cycle”. This model of learning typically represents a four-stage learning cycle in which the learner 'touches all the bases:
1. Concrete Experience - a new experience or situation is encountered or a reinterpretation of existing experience.
2. Reflective Observation of the New Experience - of particular importance are any inconsistencies between experience and understanding.
3. Abstract Conceptualization reflection gives rise to a new idea or a modification of an existing abstract concept (the person has learned from their experience).
4. Active Experimentation - the learner applies their idea(s) to the world around them to see what happens.
Similar yet different, the ECHO model has four stages:
- Explore: The first phase where educators opt for an inquiry-based approach is to have an idea of what the learners already know and what they actually want to learn.
- Create: In the next phase, the model emphasises creating an opportunity for learners to gain a common experience.
- Harvest: the third phase allows learners to reflect upon their common experiences.
- Own: The last phase suggests learners to learn from their experiences and use them accordingly.
The model emphasizes the process of education and development by using one’s experiences as the context for any content. According to Dewey, experience is always a dynamic two-way process. He referred to this process as a ‘transaction’: ‘An experience is always what it is because of a transaction taking place between the individual and, what at the time, constitutes the environment’ (Dewey, 1938: 43). Garforth acknowledges, this connection with the environment ‘is not unilateral but, as Dewey would say, transactional, for the experient is modified by his environment and the environment by the experient in a constant reciprocal relationship’ (Garforth, 1966: 13). Dewey elaborates on this two-way process, suggesting that experience involves both ‘trying’ and ‘undergoing’ (Dewey, 1916: 104). By ‘trying’, he refers to the outward expression of intention or action. It is the purposeful engagement of the individual with the environment or, in Dewey’s words, ‘doing becomes trying; an experiment with the world to find out what it is like’ (ibid). Through action, an attempt is made to have an impact on the world. And ‘undergoing’, the other aspect of the ‘transaction’ in experience, refers to the consequences of experience on the individual. In turn, in attempting to have an impact, the experience also impacts us.
In this theory, Dewey suggests that when we experience something we act upon, we do something; then we suffer or undergo the consequences. We do something to the thing, and then it does something to us in return. The connection of these two phases of experience measures the fruitfulness of experience. For him, experience is continuous from past through the present to future; it is not static but dynamic, moving, in process. (Garforth, 1966: 13). Therefore, the experience at the heart of experiential learning is not something separate or additional but something which embraces the lives of individuals.
In the end, going through Kolb and Dewey’s experiential learning model, we may conclude that the real value of any learning, be it a classroom lesson or wilderness expedition, comes after the experience when the student can hear and own her/his own learning and apply it to a new situation. Ultimately, this is an echo: when a professor’s voice or interactive lesson or shared experience returns to serve as a navigation tool for the road ahead and helps in a student’s growth.