Recently, I delivered a 30 minute presentation about experiential learning for new program staff. Naturally, I set up an intriguing hands-on, inquiry-based activity for the new staff members to experience this kind of learning for themselves.
One of the critical concepts embedded in experiential learning is inquiry. To do inquiry-based learning, an instructor presents a scenario or problem, then guides learners to identify questions and delve into them to develop their knowledge.
As they did the activity, I guided the new staff members to develop their knowledge and solutions without telling them the answers or what to do. They were really frustrated and asked me why didn't I just give them the answers. Eventually, one of them said, "See, this is how easy it is to be an instructor when you do experiential learning. You don't need to know the answer. You just keep asking people to find out the answer themselves."
This type of comment was not new to me, but I was shocked because this time, it came from a staff member. Of course she is new, but she had a huge misconception about inquiry-based experiential learning. To do it, an instructor needs not only to have solid and comprehensive content knowledge about the activity, she must skillfully lead learners to help them develop their own knowledge.
The comment was a red flag for me. We urgently need professional development to help 4-H staff fully understand, design and lead inquiry-based experiential learning activities. If 4-H staff believe that they can successfully do that by throwing out a bunch of open-ended questions and asking learners to find out the answers themselves, can you imagine what the quality of our 4-H educational programs will be?
I know that it takes more than a 30-minute "taster" activity to learn how to design and facilitate an inquiry-based experiential learning program. I also know that the opinion of that new staff member is not unique. To me, this is a sharp warning that we need to consider seriously! What do you think?
You are welcome to comment on this blog post. We encourage civil discourse, including spirited disagreement. We will delete comments that contain profanity, pornography or hate speech--any remarks that attack or demean people because of their sex, race, ethnic group, etc.--as well as spam.