Global Learning and ALA: The Power of Experiential Education

December 17th, 2015

Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is not a preparation for life; education is life itself. – John Dewey

­If John Dewey, American education reformer and “grandfather” of modern experiential education, were alive today, he would embrace the growing emphasis of global learning and applaud the expanding networks of schools across borders and continents. He would be particularly inspired by the unique approach of African Leadership Academy (ALA) which goes even further by employing global learning for the development of a continent. Today, 100 years after Dewey wrote his most influential works, educators – including those at ALA – are rigorously and creatively testing, stretching and reinvigorating the theory and practice of experiential education, and spreading that innovation through vibrant networks.

Experiential education (EE) is a “process that occurs between a teacher and student that infuses direct experience with the learning environment and content”. (Wikipedia, 2015). That process “makes conscious application of the students’ experiences by integrating them into the curriculum [and] addresses students in their entirety – as thinking, feeling, physical, emotional, spiritual and social beings. Students are . . . valuable resources for their own education, the education of others, and the well-being of the communities of which they are members”. (Carver, 2008) Global learning, and service learning, are forms of EE that are hands-on, expeditionary, and team-based with objectives that centre more on personal growth, reflection, community engagement, impact, and authentic delivery than formal assessment. At ALA, these approaches are woven into the fabric of what makes the academy unique, including the Entrepreneurial Leadership curriculum, Seminal Readings, and Africa: Land of Opportunities Day.

The Kolb Cycle is a practical articulation of experiential education best practice that is commonly reflected in lab-based science, studio art and outdoor education instruction. Increasingly, classroom teachers across disciplines and grade levels are adopting the cycle as a tool for integrating EE pedagogical principles into their instruction such as authenticity, active learning, drawing on student experiences, and connecting to future opportunities.

Most education traditions, including those throughout Africa (Adeyemi and Adeyinka, 2002), are rooted in experiential education. With the advent of industrialization and colonialism, however, experience – whether brought by students or facilitated by teachers – was largely eliminated from education in favour of lecture, memorization and regurgitation of facts. Today, we are seeing the re-emergence of EE and its transformative impact on individuals, institutions and communities.

Strategic shifts and planned expansion of our Global Programs position ALA to play a powerful role in a growing EE movement. With goals to develop global change makers, solve problems, and transform schools, our suite of programs – Global Scholars Program, Catalyst Term, Model African Union, Anzisha Prize, and the Centre for Entrepreneurial Leadership – connect individuals and institutions to the academy and engage them in its innovative and far-reaching methods. The Academy, in turn, is strengthened in its capacity to deliver its mission through synergistic relationships in a global network committed to the fundamentals of experiential education.

About the author: Sara Mierke is the Program Director for  Global Programs at African Leadership Academy.


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