Repost: Experiential Learning

(This is a re-post from an April entry at a different blog host, posted while I was experimenting with transitions from Y360)

I think the best time to write/post is immediately after coming up from the wood shop, while the experience is still fresh.

I’m going through a “do over” of my sister’s jewelry box – I was really unhappy with the accumulation of mistakes in the first version of the case, so decided to just stop and do it over (right).

I noticed tonight while cutting the pieces, the grooves and dados, and fitting everything together that I had experiential memories of where I had screwed up last time. For example, I can read in a book 100 times to take very light passes with the planer when planing curly wood, but this time I remembered very clearly what would happen (horrible gouges) if I tried to take too much off at once.  Similarly, I remembered how the dados in the end of some of the pieces weren’t flat last time, and modified my technique (i.e., “did it right” this time). I cut the panels for the top and bottom a touch too large last time, so this time I cut then a tad short to make sure they weren’t exerting pressure on the sides at glue-up.

I’ve notice this phenomenon a lot, both in the wood shop and in my professional life. No matter how often you read about an issue or hear it in a lecture, until you’ve fully experienced the consequences of that action the lesson is not truly ingrained.  This leads me to wonder whether there are truly any shortcuts around experiencing a lot of mistakes in learning. Ideally we get to experience these on “learning” projects, when the consequences are manageable. Nonetheless, I’m starting to think that asking potential job candidates about their worst mistakes might be a good question for gauging their depth of knowledge…

Food for thought. I’ve been thinking a lot about experiential learning (particularly the role of mistakes and failures) lately, and I’m sure I’ll be posting more.


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