Using Experiential Learning to Enhance Students' Foreign Language Proficiency | July 2017 | Translation Journal

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Using Experiential Learning to Enhance Students' Foreign Language Proficiency

Abstract     

The present study aimed at investigating the role of experiential as compared to traditional learning in enhancing students ` language proficiency. To this end, the researchers designed an experimental study in which they analyzed quantitatively the learners` performance in both the pretest and posttest of the groups. Two homogeneous classes were selected to participate in the study as experimental and control groups. The experimental group received a new way of teaching(  viz., experiential) as the treatment within 3 months during the summer of 2016 while the control group received a traditional way of teaching for the same amount of time. At the end of the treatment, the researcher used the SPSS software to analyze the data. The quantitative results showed that although there was not any significant difference between the two groups, the experimental group outperformed the control group in a sense that the use of experiential learning was more effective than traditional learning.  A key element of experiential learning, therefore, is the student, and that learning takes place (the knowledge gained) as a result of being personally involved in this pedagogical approach.

Key words: Experiential learning, Traditional learning, language proficiency.

Introduction

   Experiential learning refers to any learning that supports students in applying their knowledge and conceptual understanding to real-world problems or situations where the instructor directs and facilitates learning. The classroom, laboratory, or studio can serve as a setting for experiential learning through embedded activities such as case and problem-based studies, guided inquiry, simulations, experiments, or art projects. On the whole experiential learning is as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience (Kolb 1984).”

   Moreover, experiential learning is said to be motivating students. Experiential learning provides the conditions for optimally supporting student learning. When students are engaged in learning experiences that they see the relevance of; they develop increased motivation to learn. Students are also motivated when they are provided opportunities for practice and feedback (Kolb 1984).

There is no easily describable 'standard educational method'. This simplified term encompasses all the individual approaches which are used in classic teaching as opposed to alternative educational methods.

      The classic educational method deals only with the intellectual aspect of character. It concentrates on memory development and acquiring knowledge. On the other hand, experiential education pays attention to the whole person where the intellectual, physical and mental dimensions correlate. Knowledge is acquired through experience, which is put to reflection and interiorized.

        In a real classroom education students are not given enough responsibility and freedom. Experiential approach is based on partnership between teachers and students, which needs to be developed according to democratic principles. Students are granted freedom in decision-making, but at the same time, they are required to take responsibility for their actions. So by applying experiential learning in the class they can take so.

       Kolb's learning theory sets out four distinct learning styles (or preferences), which are based on a four-stage learning cycle. (which might also be interpreted as a 'training cycle'). In this respect Kolb's model is particularly elegant, since it offers both a way to understand      individual people's different learning styles, and also an explanation of a cycle of experiential learning that applies to us all (Kolb 1984).

      The main aim of this work is a practical contribution to language teaching. The researcher also wants to find out exactly what method is the best in teaching TEFL students. And after that to emphasize enough by the instructors during teaching TEFL students to help them to learn better and better and make their leaning more natural, practical and joyful.

    Kolb's learning theory offers both a way to understand individual people's different learning styles, and also an explanation of a cycle of experiential learning that applies to us all. It sets out four distinct learning styles (or preferences), which are based on a four-stage learning cycle. In this respect Kolb's model is particularly elegant. 

      Kolb includes this 'cycle of learning' as a central principle in his experiential learning theory, typically expressed as a four-stage cycle of learning, in which 'immediate or concrete experiences' provide a basis for 'observations and reflections'. These 'observations and reflections' are assimilated and distilled into 'abstract concepts' producing new implications for action  which can be 'actively tested' in turn creating new experiences (Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

    The first and foremost beneficiary of experiential learning is the student. Depending on the learner population, the benefits of experiential learning can increase. Learner groups that have been shown to benefit from experiential learning include: 

  • The mature learner who has been long removed from the traditional classroom and needs the motivation of contextual learning to get them back into the swing of academia. 
  • The learner who needs to personally experience the value of a subject in order to be motivated to learn.
  • The learner who has trouble learning within the formal classroom, and needs an alternate learning method in order to succeed.
  • Any learner who can benefit from having hands-on examples to bolster their traditional learning.

    The origins of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory, and his Experiential Learning Cycle, are found in the works of Dewey, Lewin, and Piaget. John Dewey, a pragmatist, wrote the book Experience and Education where he integrated the idea of experiential learning into traditional higher education.  Believed that experiential learning could be used as a bridge between the academic and the practical. Colleges and universities have embraced this idea and are offering more internships, externships, work-study arrangements, and credit based on prior experience. Dewey’s Model of Learning encompasses impulse, observation, knowledge and judgment in a cyclical arrangement that perpetuates until all information is learned. Dewey’s model served as one of the frameworks for Kolb’s Experiential Learning  Kurt Lewin, a proponent of Gestalt psychology, studied group dynamics and leadership styles. Lewin believed that people learn best when there is tension between their detached thought and their concrete experience. In this atmosphere, people challenge each other, and themselves, in the pursuit of further understanding (Kurt Lewin 1900).

The learner are enabled for evaluation of consequences. Lewin’s ideas contribute greatly to the field of organizational behavior and Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle closely resembles Lewin’s Model of Action Research Jean Piaget, a rationalist, believed that learning comes from a person’s interaction with their environment. During each of his stages, the child learns to manipulate objects, images and symbols respectively. In contrast to Dewey and Lewin, Piaget’s learning model consists of linear stages. His model does not address learning by adults, but rather limits learning to stages based on the age of the child. According to Piaget, a child passes through developmental stages: sensory motor (concrete/enactive), preoperational (representational/iconic), concrete operational (abstract/symbolic) and formal operations (hypothetical reasoning capabilities).

Materials and Methods

    For looking into the situation, which the researcher chose to examine, organizing the results of the research, and reporting about the findings, the researcher decided to use the case study approach.A case study is a way of studying a concrete situation methodologically and in depth. The situation is then described and critically evaluated on the basis of the data which had been systematically collected. The data for this study were collected in two different ways .First from a written form of an exam and then through an interview. As a result it could be logical because some students are better at a written form while the other are better at an oral form of examination.

   The researcher decided to apply the case study approach to the research for several reasons. First, the research complied with the aims and the limits of her research. Second, to her view, a case study is very flexible, and therefore it can be easily adjusted to the interests of individual researchers. So the study is going to be qualitative because it provides description and analysis.

       The method used in this study was the experimental one in order to help the researcher gain better consequences at the end. The research contains two types of tests. The first test was an oral one to examine the oral production of students. Then a paper test was taken from students to check two groups understanding and examining two different methods of teaching.

The data for this study were collected from a total of 30 learners of English as a foreign language. They studied English at the elementary level in two different classes of the same language institute in Rafsanjan, during the summer of 2016. The participants were at the same level and age. The students were from the same institute for a couple of reasons. First of all, they were from the same class so their age is the same or near each other. Furthermore, as the institute deploys a set of rather systematic standardized placement tests, all the participants are assumed to be homogeneous as they belong to roughly the same proficiency level.

   In one group the teacher asks students to do what she wanted to teach them in the class, actually they do it practically. But in the other group she doesn`t. she just teaches the sentences with the meaning not by doing it practically. The first class is experimental group and the second class is controlled group. In this set of experiments, the evidence found an influence of experimental learning in teaching.

     The aim was to show practical use of the approach, which could be helpful to any English teacher. A chance occurred for the researcher to participate in a weekend project which aimed at connecting experiential learning with TEFL. That directed me towards one specific use of experiential learning.

This part of the thesis provided the results of the observation of the two groups. And details of selected activities, which were chosen according to their relation to English teaching were given.

     Two considered groups showed different results which mentioned different teaching procedures.As the content of many activities had been only suggested that given concrete and holistic teaching will show a better result at the end of the course. As the students are engaged in learning it will show a better result.

      These learning opportunities are best realized through an intentional process of transforming experience into knowledge. This chapter illuminated one such process by highlighting the fundamentals of experiential learning theory – the cycle of experiential learning, learning styles, learning flexibility, learning space.

   Results and discussion

  This study aimed at investigating the role of experiential learning to enhance second language learning. The data was gathered based on the examination of students after giving special kind of training to total of 30 students. The students were from two classes of the same institute in Rafsanjan. In analyzing the data, descriptive statistics, inferential statistics, statistical package for social science (SPSS 21) and EXCELL 2010 were used. In descriptive statistics, frequency tables and descriptive bar charts were used.

  The present data were analyzed by using a parametric independent-samples t-test. There are two common assumptions as it was stated in the methodology of the research; normality and homogeneity of variances. Normality was tested through the ratios of skewness and kurtosis indices over their standard errors in the present study, while all the ratio of the learners were lower than the absolute value of 1.96, the claim is that the normal distribution of the data was seen. The following table manifests the claim based on the skewness and  kurtosis indices.

Table 1 : Descriptive Statistics; Testing Normality Assumption

Group Membership

Pretest of Each Participant

Posttest of Each Participant

Controlled

Mean

   77.00              

76.00

N

    15

                          15

Std. Deviation

   6.000

6.000

Kurtosis

  0.068       

1.000

Skewness

  -0.98              

1.000

Std. Error of Kurtosis

  1.000  

.000

Std. Error of Skewness

  0.000

.000

Experiential

Mean

81.07

90.00

N

15

                                                             15

Std. Deviation

7.000

4.000

Kurtosis

-1.016

-1.000

Skewness

0.000

.063

Std. Error of Kurtosis

0.000

1.000

Std. Error of Skewness

1.000

                          000

Pre- test of participants

     For the comparison of the experimental and control groups means on the pretest, a parametric independent t-test was run. This was for the proof of the fact that the participants in the two groups of experiment and control were at the same level of proficiency before the study. The result of the test can be seen in table 2, where the means for the control group and the experimental group in the pretest were almost the same.

 

                   Table 2. Group Statistics

 

Groups

N

Mean

Std. Deviation

Std. Error Mean

 

Controlled

experiential

 

15

77.00

6.000

1.000

 
 

15

81.07

7.000

2.008

 
 

Table 3: Independent Samples Test; Pretest by Groups

 

Pretest of Participants

Levene's Test for Equality of Variances

t-test for Equality of Means

 
 

F

Sig.

T

Df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Mean Difference

Std. Error Difference

95% Confidence Interval of the Difference

 
 

Lower

Upper

 
   

Equal variances assumed

1.045

000

-1.000

28

0.000001

.-3.000

2.000

-8.000

2.000

 
 

Equal variances not assumed

   

-1.000

26.000

0.000001

-3.000

2.000

-8.000

2.000

 
                                           

  The negative lower bound 95 % CI of -8.000 indicated that the difference between the two groups’ means on the pretest of participants is not a lot. Thus, it supported the above-mentioned conclusion that there is no significant difference between the groups’ means.

  The researcher met assumption of homogeneity of variances (F =1.045, p = 0.662). That is why the first row of Table 3, i.e.“Equal variances  assumed” was reported.

   Post test of participants

   For the comparison of the experimental and control groups` means on the posttest of participants, an independent t-test was run in order to probe the research question posed in this study. As it was mentioned, there was no need to worry about the validation of homogeneity assumption because the sample sizes were equal.

  First recall that the researcher interpreted the results of Levene`s Test, and as a reminder, the decision rules are as follows. The decision rule for α=.05 is that if p≤.05, the variances are significantly different; one should interpret the bottom row of results for t. Otherwise, if p˃.05, the variance are not significantly different. Interpret the top row of results for t. A glance over the data presented in the table 2, can manifest whether the variances are significant.

   Based on the results displayed in Table 4, (F = 1.024, p = 000), it can be claimed that p˃.05, thus, the variances are not significantly different. As a result, the interpretation should occur based on the top row for understanding of the results for t. In the independent samples t-test, the decision rule for assessing if the test is significant for α=.05 is that if p≤.05, the test is significant, which means the experiential learning had superiority over traditional learning used in the classroom. Otherwise, if p˃.05, the test is not significant, which means that there was no significant difference in experiential learning over  traditional way of learning.

Table 4. Independent Samples Test

 

Levene's Test for Equality of Variances

t-test for Equality of Means

F

Sig.

T

Df

Sig. (2-tailed)

Mean Difference

Std. Error Difference

95% Confidence Interval of the Difference

Lower

Upper

Grade

of Each

Participant

Equal variances assumed

1.024

.000

-6.000

28

.000

-14.000

2.000

-18.000

-9.000

Equal variances not assumed

   

-6.000

24.000

.000

-14.000

2.000

-18.000

-9.000

         Table 5 .Post -test Statistics

 

Controlled group

Experiential group

N

Valid

15

15

Missing

15

15

Mean

76.00

90.00

Std. Error of Mean

1.000

1.000

Median

78.00

90.00

Mode

80

85a

Std. Deviation

6.000

4.000

Variance

48.000

22.000

Skewness

.000

.063

Std. Error of Skewness

.000

.000

Kurtosis

1.000

-1.000

Std. Error of Kurtosis

1.000

1.000

Range

30

14

Minimum

60

84

Maximum

90

98

Sum

1149

1361

As shown in Table 5, the experimental (M = 90  .00, SD = 4.000) and control (M = 76.00, SD = 6.000) groups had significant differences in their means on the posttest of the test.In which shows the experiential group outperformed the controlled group.

Conclusion

     The last part was dedicated to the demonstration of the results of the study through the quantitative data analysis. As was stated, independent samples t-test was used to analyze the data obtained from the experimental and control groups pretest and posttest performances on an academic test. Homogeneity and normality of variances manifested as well as the fact that the two groups were nearly at the same level of knowledge through the pretest examination. At the end, the result of independent samples t-test on the posttest of the two experimental and control groups illuminated that there was a significant difference between the experimental and control groups performance on the post examination, and it was due to experiential learning which learners of the experimental group had during the study. Although the grades of the students of the control group manifested a development as well, but it was not comparable to the scores obtained by the participants in the experimental group. The next chapter provides a conclusive discussion as well as the implications, limitations, and significances the study had.

Summary of the Results

    A glance over the results of the chapter four manifests certain significant points which my help to understand what the conclusions of the study will be. First of all, the t-test run for the learners` pretest illuminated that learners of the experimental and control groups did not have any significant differences prior to the study when they had no treatments. Based on the normality and homogeneity of the groups which was manifested through the statistical analysis was illuminated that the two groups of experimental and control were at the same level of writing proficiency prior to the study.

      After the two weeks of the study during which experimental group received a special kind of training as their treatment and the control group only received traditional way of teaching, it was depicted through the posttest that both groups showed improvement in their tests. However, there was a significant difference among the results obtained from the test of the both groups. The data illuminated that although both groups had developments in their examination; the experimental group outperformed the control group. There was significant difference among their performances as was manifested by the t-test on the posttest.

    Significance of the findings is based on the analysis of the data for the conclusion making and answering the research question of the study. A glance over the design of the study can provide the view that the research was in-fact a quantitative research. The sample sizes were chosen carefully to match the needs and essentialities of an experimental quantitative research. Two selected groups of the study were from Khaneh-e-Zaban institute of Rafsanjan which meant that the learning context of both groups were equal and the same. The learners had nearly the same language proficiency.

     As with all quantitative experimental researches, nearly all the other important factors of the study were equal except for the treatment the groups received. The only difference of the control and experimental group was that the former received experiential learning while the latter gained traditional way of learning. While the results of the t-test in chapter four manifested that learners of the two groups nearly performed equally on the pretest, it manifested a significant alteration of scores when the test was applied after the study as the posttest in which the experimental group who gained experiential technique outperformed the control group who had only traditional teaching. As a matter of fact, since nearly all the other factors were the same and the only variable was the use of experiential learning instead of traditional learning, one can conclude that the development in learning of English revealed in the posttest was due to the use of experiential teaching. Thus, the research question of the study can be answered here. The results showed that there is a statistically significant difference between using experiential learning in promoting the learning of students' ability. As was supposed in the researcher`s hypothesis, experiential learning is more effective than traditional learning.

    The results of the study can be generalized to the Iranian EFL population, because the study was a quantitative study which manifested objective results based on the quantification and numbers. The learners had enough chances for awareness raising, because not only they were provided with feedback and had the chance to give and receive comments on their own works, but also they had opportunities to see others` works, comments, state of understanding, and the feedbacks teacher provided. It was attempted to show that experiential learning can be successfully employed in teaching English as a foreign language. Namely, it was concentrated on the specific Kolb version of the educational method.

This research supported the view that experiential learning could be used in English teaching. The English course which it examined achieved its aims to a large extent. Concerning the application of experiential education methods to TEFL, it considered the course successful even if not without reservations. In the description of these observations of the program, it included suggestions for a possibly more efficient use of the activities in TEFL. Considering the actual linguistic outcome of the` course, it considered the most significant drawback to be the failure to employ English to a substantial extent, particularly outside the individual activities.

      Even though the event which examined took place in an out-of-school environment and the experiential learning method is conventionally connected to leisure time education, it is believed that the approach can be effectively used in a classroom. It has attempted to employ knowledge and experience with this educational approach in teaching English to adult learners.

   From this point of view, the most important outcome of the pre-tests and post-tests with the participants was the fact that the children needed adequate motivation for learning. They appreciate when learning is fun but it is not enough. They are aware of the\ requirements of the'real world' (school, job, future fulfillment) and they are motivated when the subject of study complies with their personal aims.

References:

Abbey, D. S., Hunt, D. E., & Weiser, J. C. (1985). Variations on a theme by Kolb:

       A new perspective for understanding counseling and supervision.

Baker, A., Jensen, P., & Kolb, D. A. (2002). Conversational Learning:

     An experiential approach to knowledge creation.

Hunt, D.E. (1987). Beginning with ourselves. Cambridge, MA: Brookline.

Hobbs, T. (ed.) 1992. Experiential training: practical guidelines. /Roudledge Hickox, L. K(2002). Personalizing teaching through experiential learning.

International Consortium for Experiential Learning

       http://www.icel.org.uk

Joy, S. & Kolb, D. A. (2007). Are There Cultural Differences in Learning Style?

       Department of Organizational Behavior Case Western Reserve University

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