Ma Ka Hana Ka ʻIke means By Doing One Learns in Hawaiian. This ethos is at the core of my philosophy of education and it serves as the foundation of the educational programs I create. Learning through application and subsequent reflections is a potent way for your learners to see the immediate relevance of individual skills. And these can either be skills that you want to instill and grow in them, or skills that they already have.
And the benefits of experiential learning extend even beyond helping learners acquire individual, technical skills. A cohort of learners with a diverse set of technical skills is an opportunity to foster an environment which embraces the real world -- an environment where interpersonal skills are the key to success.
Acquiring practical skills is a key to learning experiences, and the most potent experiential learning builds skills by using them in real time. In my Digital Journalism classes, learners began by identifying a main technical skill, either new or existing, that they wanted to hone and grow. Within the first few weeks I learned how many videographers, photographers, writers, graphic designers, and project managers I had in the class. Each student worked on their individual storytelling products by getting those products out into the world, iterating, and gaining an audience. Dibuk created a storytelling website designed to inspire educational change in her home island of Palau. Elsa produced a podcast series on youth mental health and published it on SoundCloud. Jordan began writing in-depth stories about Hawaiʻi, centered around local food and culture, which eventually led to a featured story in the Washington Post about Big Island Shave Ice Company. Learners were not mimicking the real world -- the work was engaging and had impact. Every week, as a class, we would come together and look at growth and their iterations, and critique the work. And through this repeated effort students not only optimized their skills, but also grew their confidence and sense of belonging.
But it’s not just about technical, individual skills. Experiential learning can be a powerful catalyst for developing collaborative skills. As we got further into our Digital Journalism class, and each student had at least a piece of the puzzle in hand, we partnered students with vastly different technical skills up. This skills diversity allowed their storytelling product to have more texture and reach a wider audience. We teamed up the videographer with the writer, and the photographer with the graphic designer. They were forced to learn the mechanics and ethos of working on a team, because their partners had a key skill they were missing. You can call these collaborative skills SEL, deeper learning, entrepreneurship, or some other education buzzword, but at the end of the day students were human beings grappling with the challenge of working with each other.
For our final project as a class, we designed a wholecloth, shared product, and determined each of our roles and responsibilities. We became a storytelling studio. As learners we were able to see our individual skills and selves in the work we were doing as a group. We each contributed in ways that directly impacted the growth, audience reach, and success of our whole class product. As a byproduct of all the collaboration, and thanks to the diversity of skills, the project also created an opportunity for learners to share knowledge and teach each other.
I have seen what happens when learners have a real world experience that has purpose: they see the immediate usefulness of technical skills and are highly motivated to develop them. And this also applies to the crucial growth of team building and interpersonal skills. When students with a diversity of skills come together to work towards a common goal they have to learn how to combine their efforts and capacities. From the environmental photographer teaming up with the digital writer, to drone videographers partnering with social media gurus, learners in our Digital Journalism class, in real time, grappled with what it means to collaborate with another human being. And it was real because they needed those skills of their partners. And when you need to tap into the skills of other humans to get things done? That’s as real world as it gets.