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What makes an experience a learning experience?

Not all experiences are learning experiences. In fact, some experiences are what John Dewey called “miseducative” – these are experiences that shut down further experience. In 1938, Dewey wrote in “any experience is miseducative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience” (Experience and Education, chapter 2, para. 2). Stereotypes and prejudices can be the result of this kind of miseducative experiences. When one assumes that one experience tells them all they need to know about a group of people or a place or a subject, they shut themselves off from growth and further learning.

Learning from life experiences requires reflection in which we ask ourselves questions that open doors to new learning. These might be questions such as:

  • How did this experience compare to what I thought was going to happen?
  • How is my experience similar and different from those others?
  • How did I feel during the experience?
  • What seemed to go well and what did not? Why?
  • What do I think will happen next?

The Kolb learning cycle, presented in this video, is one model for how we make meaning from our experience:

Dig Deeper: If you are interested, you can dig deeper into the Kolb model and learning from experience with these resources:

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