The Power of Experience

Central College Pella IA 100912

President Mark Putnam encourages students and alumni to engage and learn by experience.

Part of the richness of human experience is we all seem to order the world in different ways. I suppose for some this is a great source of frustration, particularly those who have strong views about what is important and how important things should be accomplished. For me, the ambiguity of society is a great source of fascination as I observe others in thought and action as we participate in the shared experience of work and play.

The texture of learning also varies a great deal. While there are some patterns to what constitutes effective teaching and learning environments, many of us find we learn best in certain settings and under certain conditions. Early in life we tend to be highly dependent learners, relying on the instructional designs of parents and teachers. Gradually through the course of life we become increasingly independent in our learning, though we accomplish this at different levels and at different rates. The challenge for educators, therefore, is providing a system of learning opportunities that are sturdy and durable, yet flexible and adaptable. Some of us bristle at the rigidities of settings that are more about containment and conformity. Others rely on those structures as a sure platform for success. A few could be turned loose in the world and would naturally absorb all there is to learn organically, while others find interpretive frameworks, categories and theories to be essential.

One of the learning environments we all seem to find beneficial, however, is a setting in which we practice what we are learning. Experiential learning is not new. In fact, it is really the oldest form of formalized instruction most often expressed in apprenticeships, internships, residencies and practica. In the literature of teaching and learning, these are most commonly referred to as communities of practice. Learning in a practice setting animates the process of knowledge acquisition through demonstration and application. Sometimes we think of this as “hands-on” learning, real-world experience or professional skill development. Whatever form it takes, experiential learning is incredibly powerful and ideally it should be present through the whole of life.

For students at Central, there is a rich heritage of experiential learning manifested in longstanding commitments to internships, service learning, study abroad, undergraduate research, athletics, music ensembles, theater productions and work in professional settings. If we step back and think of ourselves as lifelong learners on a journey from more heavily dependent learning to highly independent learning, we see we need to embrace learning in all its forms. Each of us can craft our own learning in a customized way that best fits our needs. In this way, we learn how to learn.

The power of the Central College experience for current students and for our alumni is rooted in the desire to always learn by accumulating knowledge, skill and experience in a never-ending journey of discovery about ourselves and the world. Our invitation is to be an engaged learner wherever you are and stretch in new ways through the power of experience.

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