Experience-based Learning…and Teaching​

Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), as the name suggests, puts experience in the main role when considering learning and development.

Experiential Learning Theory defines learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.” (Kolb, 1984, p.41)

Grasping experience is done through Concrete Experience: CE (actually having an experience) and Abstract Conceptualization: AC (thinking about what you experienced). The transformation comes from Reflective Observation: RO and Active Experimentation: AE; here our thoughts and reflections get transferred to new experiences.





As educators, the ELT believes that our job is to help learners maximize learning by moving through the four stages of the cycle.  In fact, highly successful educators often “teach around the learning circle” and the various roles they take on help to facilitate the transition from one learning mode to another.   This constant movement creates a learning spiral where experience is reflected upon, and the new experience becomes “richer, broader, and deeper”.  These reflections are carried into further explorations and the transfer into new experiences- a continuing spiral of learning.  Understandings and new experiences become more sophisticated, and actions become more effective as the spiral continues.

Promoting a person’s learning is a complex task requiring attention to mulitple competing demands- the needs and interests of the learner and knowledge of the subject matter, understanding the deeper meaning and implications of knowledge and its practical application to the learner’s life challenges.  As teachers, coaches, leaders, parents, and friends, we often find ourselves facing these challenges of education.

The Kolb Educator Role Profile, 2013


Kolb Educator Role Profile



When I saw my profile (complete your own questionnaire to get your profile here), I was satisfied with my survey results:

my educator profile

They match what I see as my role in the classroom: facilitator and coach.  I know my role as an expert comes out occasionally, but do I want to be an evaluator?  How can I evaluate how well individuals are accepting and dealing with hearing loss?

Becoming aware of the different educational roles you can adopt will help you design courses and curricula that maximize student learning by helping them develop a rich array of learning strategies they would not have been able to obtain with a single teaching approach.

The Kolb Educator Role Profile, 2016

I have a new incentive to ‘teach through the cycles’ and not be complacent in my roles as facilitator and coach.  Here are some ideas of how I might strengthen my roles of expert and evaluator:

  • remember that learning happens best when learners integrate new concepts into their existing understanding.  It is my job to review past knowledge and help make those connections to the new experiences with them.
  • encourage learners to analyze and build models and to establish their own theories.  I can ask my learners: What have you tried?  What worked?  What can you change?
  • ask them to reflect on their experiences so they can organize their thoughts.  I will suggest they keep a journal or blog.
  • assist learners in creating a plan for action or developing learning goals.  What can you do next?  What kind of communication situation will you be encountering?  How can you plan ahead by thinking about the factors that affect your communication: Environment, Speaker, Listener, and Message?
  • measure learner performance against established criteria and provide feedback.  I am a content expert, and as such can provide additional ideas and potential successes and downfalls of their ideas for effective communication.

The ELT provides a good framework for the learning and teaching that happens in the Speechreading course.




Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Additional sites to explore:




Hearing Loss, Memory, and Cognition


What is the connection between hearing loss, memory, and cognition?

Beck and Flexer (2011) coined “Listening Is Where Hearing Meets Brain” to emphasize the fact that attributing meaning to sound (i.e., listening) is the more important and significant goal from the patient’s perspective, than simply hearing or perceiving sounds. Indeed, patients want to be able to make sense of sound, not just hear it.

What do those with hearing loss feel about what is happening?

I just can’t remember things like I used to.

It’s so hard for me to be a student now with my hearing loss.  I don’t learn as easily as I did before.

I feel like I’m not as smart as I use to be.

 Speechreading students


Students in my Speechreading class have long complained about having more trouble remembering things than they use to have: names, details from conversations, information from classes.  It makes sense to me.  I explain to them that the more mental resources used to merely perceive and comprehend what is being said, the less resources available to process and remember.  If the speech is degraded, their brain is working harder to merely process the sounds.  The information cannot be accessed by the sensory memory, which in turn complicates the processing that would occur in the working memory.  When this occurs, what happens to comprehension, memory and the effort put forth?

… an effortfulness hypothesis: the notion that the extra effort that a hearing-impaired listener must expend to achieve perceptual success comes at the cost of processing resources that might otherwise be available for encoding the speech content in memory.

McCoy, Tun, Cox, Colangelo, Stewart, and Wingfield, 2005


What can those with hearing loss (and those who communicate with them) do to reduce the drain on the resources?  Hearing aids can help.  Effective communication is also very beneficial.  Encouraging communication partners to speak more clearly, a little more slowly, and just a little more loudly.  If the topic is stated before the conversation starts, that’s very useful!  Anything that can provide a more favourable signal-to-noise ratio also helps: reduce background noise, reduce reverberation, use assistive listening technology, get closer to what you want to hear and further from distracting noise sources.

Beck and Clark (2009) noted the relationship between audition and cognition is interdependent and symbiotic, stating “audition matters more as cognition declines, and cognition matters more as audition declines.”

What does this mean to adult learners who have hearing loss?  My responsibilities as an instructor include:

  • ensuring potential students are comfortable and have any questions answered before the course begins
  • being an effective communicator throughout
  • encouraging and supporting all students to be effective communicators
  • providing a hearing-accessible teaching environment
  • ensuring the content is relevant and practical
  • arranging learning opportunities that do not rely only on audition, if possible, to reduce the effort to comprehend (less lecture, more activities)

All that I am discovering about adult learning intertwines and supports my role as a facilitator in my classroom.  The characteristics of adult learners, how they learn, what motivates them, memory and cognition- this is information I need to keep in mind each time I prepare for and step into my classroom.  We all benefit from this knowledge.



Beck, D., & Clark, J. (2009, March 20). Audition Matters More as Cognition Declines: Cognition Matters More as Audition Declines. Retrieved July 22, 2016, from http://www.audiology.org/news/audition-matters-more-cognition-declines-cognition-matters-more-audition-declines
Beck, D., & Flexer, C. (2011, February 2). Listening Is Where Hearing Meets Brain…in Children and Adults – Hearing Review. Retrieved July 22, 2016, from http://www.hearingreview.com/2011/02/listening-is-where-hearing-meets-brain-in-children-and-adults/
Mccoy, S. L., Tun, P. A., Cox, L. C., Colangelo, M., Stewart, R. A., & Wingfield, A. (2005, January). Hearing loss and perceptual effort: Downstream effects on older adults’ memory for speech. The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology Section A, 58(1), 22-33. doi:10.1080/02724980443000151

Humour in the Classroom

Humour is a comfortable component of my Speechreading courses.  However, prior to PIDP 3100, I had been unaware of the vast benefits it can impart on students, their learning objectives, and their classroom experiences.

“Humor is a powerful force. It can encourage an atmosphere of openness, develop students’ divergent thinking, improve their retention of the presented materials, and garner respect for the teacher.”

Eagen, 2011

Garner (2006) discusses the benefits of using humour in the classroom.  Results of his study show that humour can be a robust tool that can engage students so they feel the information was communicated more effectively and significantly increase students’ abilities to retain and recall information.  He cautions that humour must be specific to the subject material, be included primarily to enhance the learning environment, and be appropriate for the audience.

“Humor has psychological, social, and cognitive (educational) benefits. Humor has the power to make instructors more likable, approachable, facilitate comprehension, increase attentiveness, improve creativity, and promote social relationships.”

Lei, Cohen, & Russler, 2010

You can read about the many additional benefits of humour and laughter here, including stimulation of the cerebral cortex, promoting endorphin release, and alleviating anxiety and depression.  It can encourage a sense of trust, set the tone for a relaxed atmosphere, and foster group cohesion.  Humour also captures students’ attention and bolsters self-confidence and creativity.

Atherton (2013) provides guidelines for using humour in the classroom.  My favourites were:

  • Integrate humour into the main substance of the material rather than using one-off jokes, as it enhances learning and memory
  • Never use humour that is potentially offensive to anyone
  • Be sure to connect your humour to the material or topic. Keep it short, but identifiable.
  • If you don’t remember if you’ve told a joke before, skip it. If there are typically jokes that you tell in a course, make a list and check them off as you go!

Humour is an essential part of my classroom.  I use humour throughout my course by sharing stories of past students, giving examples of how to respond when you have misunderstood, and as a general recommendation for dealing with the daily struggle of living with a hearing loss.  It is interwoven in how and what I instruct.  I let my students know early in my course that I will use humour as a strategy (they have probably already experienced it if we are past the first class!), but I am also quick to say that I don’t believe that hearing loss or the difficulties it imparts are funny.  I know they aren’t, but I ask ‘what are the alternatives?’  Anger?  Depression?


LOL. (n.d.) Retrieved July 06, 2016 from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/3955442779749745832/


Throughout the Speechreading course, we discuss how humour can diffuse a tense miscommunication.  It can often effectively relay a message that is either ignored or misunderstood otherwise.  A student once shared that since we had talked in class about using humour as a strategy, she was attempting to use humour to get her husband to understand her frustrations with his lack of accommodation at home.  Despite her constant reminders that she needed him to look at her when he spoke, he repeatedly asked her questions when he was looking for something in the fridge.  During one such occasion, she casually asked him about his girlfriend in the fridge.  He looked at her quizzically.  She replied, “you must not be talking to me, because I am sitting over here and couldn’t possibly hear you with your head in the fridge”.  He smiled.  When I asked her weeks later about the girlfriend in the fridge, she told me that she doesn’t come around very often anymore.  Success!

When students relay real-life experiences with hearing loss, others in the class empathise and they laugh together.  When a librarian told of a situation where she spent time showing a gentleman all the resources available on mushrooms, only to discover he had asked the whereabouts of the washroom, everyone chuckled and nodded knowingly.  Being able to laugh at these experiences permits others to share their embarrassing situations and see that they certainly are not alone.  I have seen the most reserved person in the class speak up and share a story when others have previously put themselves out there.

I put a joke related to hearing loss on the agenda each week, and we celebrate the end of the course with a slideshow of comics relating to hearing loss and communication.  Past students email me to share when they find a good one, and I take that as a sign of an approved classroom tool!  This post has allowed me to think about how and why I use humour in my teaching.  While it was something I did naturally, I now see the many benefits it provides and the importance it plays in my teaching efforts.


Interesting sources about humour in the classroom:

All sites retrieved July 4, 2016.

Characteristics of Adult Learners

Knowles’ characteristics of adult learners have been widely discussed by many educators and address a process model of learning for adults, rather than a pedagogical content-driven model.


infogrpahic adult-learning
Legault (2011)


Many articles penned to discuss characteristics of adult learners stem from the assumptions initiated by Knowles:

  • Self- direction and the need to know. Why are they learning something?  What are the benefits learning and/or risks of not learning it?  Adults respond more positively when they can answer how, what, and why.  Adults need to be involved in decisions about these questions.
  • Self-concept. Adults feel they are responsible for their own decisions and are self-directed in learning.  This includes making decisions, being motivated and monitoring learning.  Self-concept is often context-dependent.
  • Life experience. Adults have had more experiences and typically more diverse experience.  They can draw on their own experiences as a resource to enhance learning.  However, prior experience can also lead to bias, single-mindedness, and resistance to change.  Learning should be connected to past experiences, and it should also be active, constructive and collaborative.
  • Readiness to learn and orientation to learning. Learning needs to be timely, relevant, practical and results-orientated. Learning should focus on tasks and problems rather that on subjects.  Contextualized and experiential learning works best with adults.
  • Motivation to learn. Rewards are more likely to be intrinsic, rather than coming from external sources.   Self-satisfaction, choice and seeing the value in what is learned is very relevant as learning is usually voluntary.

Adult learners are busy in so many various facets of their lives.  These multitasking realities of life, where learning plays a secondary or minor role, should be respected and accommodated.  They may lack the confidence to jump into a ‘student’ role.

A group of adults is likely to be more diverse than the same number of children.  Age, life experiences, age-related physical limitations (e.g., vision, hearing, memory) can vary greatly, affecting the learning process.  It is important that they are physically comfortable in their environment.

I appreciated this article  from RIT On-line Learning where the characteristics of adult learners were paired with teaching strategies, acknowledging and addressing those characteristics.

I feel my classroom presents as a very special environment.  Adults register for my course because they have a hearing loss and are experiencing communication difficulties. They share frustrations, successes, and after the sessions, some lasting friendships have been made.  I encourage a friend or family member to register as well, emphasizing that communication is a two-way street.  Speechreading takes place at Vancouver Community College (VCC), and my students range from 20 to 80+ years old.  We have afternoon and evening course options, and we meet once per week for 12 weeks.

What am I doing right?

My classroom instruction addresses many of these issues already:

  • Since we are dealing with hearing loss and communication, the classroom set-up is vital. Our class sizes are small (6-10 students), and the tables are arranged in a horseshoe so they can see one another.  I wear a lapel microphone connected to a sound field speaker, and each student has a tabletop microphone.  This increases the chance that the students are able to hear me and one another.  I place name tents on each table so they are able to see and remember names.  I have made large font handouts for those with visual impairments.  Break times are important to get a break from the classroom.  Students also use the time to get to grab a snack, get know one another, and check in with work or families.
  • My ‘class rules’ are that everyone deserves to hear and understand what is going on. We will work as a team to make sure this happens.  One person speaks at a time.  The class is a place where everyone understands the difficulties associated with hearing loss.  It is a place where everyone can practice strategies and share experiences among supportive partners, that they might not feel comfortable doing yet in the ‘real world’.
  • I include opportunities in every class for students to share communication experiences. Someone might be frustrated with their hearing loss and communication efforts.  We brainstorm problems, with ideas coming from students and myself.  Students also share their communication successes.
  • We talk about strategies that impact situations they experience on a regular basis: in restaurants, on the phone, in the doctor’s office, with co-workers and family.
  • Practice activities are practical and varied- sometimes they communicate with me, sometimes in groups of 2 or 3. I occasionally introduce background noise to simulate real life environments, or we’ll go to the cafeteria to analyze environmental factors.
  • We talk about what assertiveness means, why they need to be assertive (or what happens when they are not), and how to be assertive. Situations are explored through group discussions.

How can I make it better?

  • Explicitly ask about expectations of the learning experience before it begins. Ask about any concerns they have coming to class.
  • Ensure that I make more time to practice strategies that we discuss in class, rather than moving on to a new topic after I discuss the why? and how? Practice and give feedback.  An experimentation with a flipped classroom may provide the time for this!
  • Have all students submit problem situations at the beginning of the course that we can target their actual situations with brainstorming sessions throughout the semester.
  • Make an effort to find online examples and demonstrations of strategies to show, as an alternative (or in addition to) written handouts.

It is good to be pushed to critically evaluate what you are doing in your classroom. Sometimes we do what we do because that’s what we have always done and it works. Efforts, large and small, may make a meaningful difference to an adult learner who has made a leap of faith to participate.


Kuhne, G. (n.d.) 10 Characteristics of Adults as Learners. Retrieved from http://ctle.hccs.edu/facultyportal/tlp/seminars/tl1071SupportiveResources/Ten_Characteristics_Adults-Learners.pdf

Legault (2011) [INFOGRAPHIC] An Overview of the Principles of Adult Learning. Retrieved from https://nlegault.ca/2011/09/25/infographic-an-overview-of-the-principles-of-adult-learning/

Malamed, C. (n.d.) Characteristics of Adults Learners. Retrieved from http://theelearningcoach.com/learning/characteristics-of-adult-learners/

Pappas, C. (2013, May 8) Adult Learners’ Traits. Retrieved from https://elearningindustry.com/8-important-characteristics-of-adult-learners

RIT Online Learning. (n.d.)  Characteristics of Adult Learners. Retrieved from http://www.ode.state.or.us/wma/teachlearn/testing/resources/essentialskillreading_hs_level3_characteristicsadultlearners.pdf

All retrieved June 24, 2016.