What we do is the result of observation, action, and reflection. Our behavior reflects how we compare experiences from the past as we deem them good or bad, successful or unsuccessful. We also look at the actions of others – which are good and which are bad? Then we develop unique strategies that best apply to our specific situation. In contrast to a linear understanding of learning, this dynamic could be described as circular development and it involves referring to previous experiences as well as anticipating outcomes.
In regard to education, this process demonstrates why it is so difficult to track and trace what a person has learned. Tests alone cannot reveal exactly how deeply knowledge has been incorporated and whether the person will be able to implement it when it is needed. Personal learning can also cause confusion. As the story of the Teflon frying pan shows - progress is often a surprising result of former regressions or recursions to old patterns. Experiential learning means that those behavioral patterns from recurring models encounter new situations, rules, or behavioral styles.
Pedagogical approaches that encourage learners to become civically involved emphasize the active components of learning: discovery, reflective observation, trial and error, and growing with challenges or collaboration. The ability to act as autonomous, responsible and engaging individuals are formed in broad-reaching, heterogenous learning environments, and therefore are inherently composed of a variety of learning experiences. These experiences, in turn, need to be connected by means of a consciously designed learning process.
Often the most positive results of an adult’s educational experience do not come from schools or books. Self-learning, defining priorities, and finding intuitive ways to succeed are also crucial for gaining competences and knowledge.
Individuals cannot constantly use all of their resources and energy. They do not know what will happen tomorrow, but life experience can help to predict certain outcomes. In this sense learning is a constant process of ups and downs paired with lots of trial and error. Therefore, we have to change our linear understanding of learning in order to be better prepared for life’s many obstacles.
The circular learning model developed by David Kolb states, that a learner has to go through several phases from experience to experimentation.
Becoming an active individual is an intense emotional process. On the one hand, it’s playful and inspiring; on the other it’s connected to feelings such as uncertainty, anxiety, disappointment, and sometimes frustration. Empowerment prepares learners for facing the positive and negative aspects of becoming active, self-responsible, or exposing themselves toward the public.
"Shifting learning to empowerment requires an alternative and cooperative understanding of learning and teaching."