Theory? Or experience?

It’s the first day of class. Again.

Pros Write

Many people believe you have to choose between experience and theory when you want to gain knowledge or skills. But the choice represents a false dichotomy. It’s on my mind today as I get ready to meet my first two classes of undergraduate students since 2012.

The first day of a college course is about two things: setting expectations and getting to know each other. One important way for students to get to know me is to hear my thoughts about how people learn. Here’s what I’m likely to say about theory and experience today.

How Do Adults Learn?

A researcher named David Kolb observed adults learning at work and discovered what we call the “experiential learning cycle.” Learning is non-linear. It’s a cyclical process with four phases. Let’s go through a simple example.

Credit: Jonathan Newton

Imagine you’re a swimmer and you want to learn to compete in the 100m butterfly event. You start…

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