In learning, put what you know to test

Photo credit: Bushko

The 3rd phase of the 5E model of training and learning is EXPERIMENT. Part of designing a training course is to put participants in problem-solving situations and create experiences that are powerful enough to change established routines and knowledge.

Cognitive psychology tells us learning is an active process when learners form new ideas or concepts based on their existing knowledge. Learners select and transform information, make assumptions and decisions based on their own cognitive structure – a framework for learners to organize their experiences and make sense of things. The constructivist approach makes learners active problem solvers.

Solving problems

Solving problems means facing situations that challenge our initial understanding of an issue. It’s the famous Piagetian transition from assimilation – trying to incorporate new information into existing ideas – to accommodation – changing or replacing existing ideas based on new information. Learning becomes a dynamic process of seeking balance between the topic and the environment.In this approach, the essential role of the training designer is to think up problematic situations. According Brown, Collins and Duguid:“The act of learning is an interpretation of experiences, a language or a phenomenon capitalized on in their context.”Situational learning requires designers to create authentic tasks in context as realistic as possible. The transition from assimilation to accommodation results in an internal conflict – the cognitive conflict. Changing existing ideas is no mean feat!Vygotski (Russian psychologist best known for his sociocultural theory, 1896-1934) asserted how social interactions play a crucial role in learning. European researchers demonstrated this in the 1970s, using pairs of children who were tasked with resolving an operational problem. Researchers observed that individual progress was most notable when the children disagreed. Realizing that others think differently and that other positions are possible lead to a change of cognitive perspective.The EXPERIMENT phase of the 5E (Engage, Explain, Experiment, Explore, Embed) model therefore provides opportunities for learners to connect their previous experiences with what they are learning and make a conceptual sense of the main ideas along the way. This is when learners are encouraged to explain the concepts/ideas, listen and compare the understanding of others with theirs, engage in discourse with co-learners and finally revise their concept understanding to the point where they can differentiate their old understanding from their newly formed ones.

What neuroscience tells us

The importance Vygotski granted to social relations in learning is backed up by contemporary neuroscience. Researchers see the brain as a social organ that is shaped throughout life by our relations with others.“Our ability to learn is closely dependent on the quality of our relations with teachers/trainers, as well as our peers, our family, our friends, the community, etc.” Source: Medjad, Gil, Lacroix. Neurolearning. Eyrolles 2017.Neuroscience therefore teaches us that the quality of relations between trainers, mentors and learners, as well as between learners and their managers, etc. are critical for learning.Socio-cognitive conflict requires a climate of psychological safety – learners must be allowed to make errors, request assistance and feedback without being judged.“The learning environment is of crucial importance. Too much stress, negative feelings, or a perceived threat (being judged, ridiculed, etc.) short-circuits the thinking mode of the brain and compromises learning. Stress that comes from an achievable and engaging challenge, positive emotions and the feeling of safety create the acceptance of cognitive conflict and bolster the memory trace of the learning.” Source: Medjad, Gil, Lacroix. Neurolearning. Eyrolles 2017.Application:Exemplify problem situations that are as close to real life as possible, directly related to working conditions. Incorporate team activities, requiring cooperation and confrontation in an atmosphere of goodwill and the freedom to make mistakes. Refocus the role of the trainer on the creation of conditions for fostering conflict and cooperation.

Learn through experience

According to John Dewey, a proponent of experiential learning (Dewey, 1938), learning is an ongoing and recurrent activity that accompanies every human throughout their life and is deeply rooted in their experience. Learning forms a process for individuals to adapt to their environment.Using the work of Piaget and Dewey, Kolb (David A. Kolb known for his experiential learning theory) posited the learning cycle in 1984. Learning is only complete once all phases have been explored:
  • Experiencing, is all about concrete experience. It needs to be as close to that which the learner experiences in the world of work. Learners use their acquired skills to navigate the experience.
  • Reflective observation. Learners think about the experience they have had and take a step back to reflect on it.
  • Abstract conceptualization. From experience, learners build general concepts that can be transferred to other situations.
  • Active experimentation. Learners create a hypothesis that they test in a new concrete experimentation.
Only the full cycle lets learners learn, i.e. change their knowledge, know-how, behavioural practices and so on. But people differ in the way they prioritize the processing of information. Kolb developed four learning styles after observing that every learner prefer using two processes of the cycle.Application:Give learners the tools for the ‘reflective observation’ phase. Support the explanation of concepts to be retained (generalization phase) and their prioritization (see “Explain”). Move away from past experiences and, instead, provide new experiences to validate new concepts.Cegos Asia Pacific. Beyond Knowledge. 2018


Sandy Hernandez, Client Solutions Director, Cegos Asia Pacific