The challenge to create learning environments that could promote learning is an aspect which currently enjoys much attention in the higher education environment. According to the outcomes based approach, learners are required to be equipped with relevant and applicable skills when entering the workforce on completion of their studies. With this as background, this study investigated the applicability of experiential learning as an approach that could enable learners to make optimal use of changing learning environments. Experiential learning mainly takes place through learners’ exposure to concrete experiences which are then critically reflected upon. The concept of action learning is often used as synonym for experiential learning, as the principles underlying these concepts and the philosophical assumptions are the same. Service learning is an application field of experiential learning that differs from the traditional learning approach. Learners learn from their exposure to learning experiences, whereas service rendering takes place simultaneously. In this study attention will be paid to the importance of reflection in the learning process. On completion of the learning experience learners critically investigate their own values, preconceptions, insights they have gained in the process and actions. The reflective learning process gives learners the opportunity to monitor their own learning objectives, to enhance insight and understanding and observe the interaction between theory and practice. In addition to this the process allows them to optimise human potential by applying what they have learned. According to the process followed in this study, learners have developed and implemented certain psycho-social interventions in collaboration with a specific community. At the start of the process learners were requested to keep their dairies up to date and use these to reflect on any aspect of their learning experience. With the consent of the learners a quantitative analysis was done of the content of their dairies and certain themes have manifested. The main themes that have been identified refer to the experiences during the development and implementation of the intervention and these relate mainly to the learning facilitator. Initially learners were quite dependent on familiar structures but once they became more at ease with the process, they were able to observe and manage the process with greater freedom. One aspect that is prominent in this study is the significance of group processes - not only for the individual learner, but also as part of the greater environment. Learners were specifically challenged to manage the unpredictability of the various processes – something which has required greater adaptability and leniency of learners. Learners’ reflections on the achievement of learning outcomes centre on opportunities to practically apply their theoretical knowledge. In many learners the interaction between theory and practice has resulted in the expansion of their cognitive content. Many references were also made to the improvement of life skills which relate specifically to the group processes and personal enrichment. A reflective attitude in a learning environment facilitates opportunities for learners to build on their current knowledge and develop a greater emotive conscience of the various processes and people involved in the learning environment. In addition to this individual life skills can also become more prominent. Reflection on learning experiences is a critical component by which learners could make sense of their experiences and apply their knowledge, emphasise the greater environment and support the interaction between people and the self as part of the learning process.
Dissertation (MA (Research Psychology))--University of Pretoria, 2008.