Experiential Learning

The human psyche has three domains or systems for learning:

The Cognitive System:

Our logical, intellectual system. The medium for
learning is symbolic, i.e. language. As this domain develops, it
becomes our conscious interaction with our world.

The Psychomotor System:

How we learn to use our body, the physical
machine. Here we learn to connect intention with physical action to
accomplish physical results. The medium for learning is practice.

The Affective System:

Where we develop values and beliefs about ourselves and
our paradigm for reality. The medium for learning is experience. Here
we develop our Belief System (our entire definition of Reality) about
everything we perceive, including such things as our sense of trust,
loyalty, integrity, and our beliefs about ourselves, our capability,
our worth, our lovability, our degree of control over our experience of
life (the victim belief).

The Affective is the first of these to develop. Soon after conception, in fact as soon as the developing ball of cells that is to become the fetus is differentiated sufficiently that some cells are capable of responding to chemical stimuli based on previous experience, the Affective System is initiated. The developing person then begins to interact with experience of the outside world through the experience and feelings of the mother! The chemicals that course through the mother’s bloodstream that reflect her emotional reactions to her experiences, i.e. fear. passion, love, anger, etc., pass through the placenta to the fetus and affective learning and development takes place.

As soon as tissue differentiation has progressed to muscle and skeleton, Psychomotor learning begins and the mother “feels life.” Psychomotor and Affective learning are moving right along by the time of the baby’s birth. Cognitive learning, on the other hand, does not really begin until the person has language. Language begins usually in the second year and cognitive capacity slowly increases in function as a tool for resourceful decision-making throughout a person’s life. Cognitive capacity, as an ability to process experience, is not very well developed until at least puberty, probably young adulthood.

Therefore (and here is the Key that underlies the importance and the effectiveness of Experiential Work) THE DECISIONS THAT FORM THE FOUNDATION OF A PERSON’S SENSE OF SELF, SELF-ESTEEM, AND STRATEGY FOR LIVING, were made in the Affective Domain by a young child, AND RESIDE THERE!

As cognition develops and becomes our conscious interaction with our world, the affective conclusions drop out of sight, deep into the subconscious. There they become the person’s perception of REALITY! These conclusions, made by a child, become, and remain, the driving force behind the behaviors, reactions, and results of most people as adults! A child is literally in charge of our lives! A child operating from decisions and strategies made without thought process, decisions and strategies based on fundamentally flawed conclusions, that he or she is incapable, lacking in worth, unlovable, and a victim of circumstances and people outside of self and beyond one’s control.

The problem with traditional (cognitive) approaches to learning and change is that the medium for learning and communication for each of the domains is fundamentally different. The Cognitive Domain is communicating in terms of symbols and thought process. The Psychomotor Domain is physically practicing and doing. The Affective Domain is experiencing and feeling, and the driving factors in the Affective are subconscious.

We have all had the experience of attending seminars and lectures where wonderful principles of successful and joyful living and working are presented. We are all enthused and excited from the great ideas and thoughts we hear and for a time we actually work at applying what we learned cognitively. And we CAN drive behavior, even attitude, for a while from our cognition. But it is artificial and can’t be sustained. This is especially true when we are faced with challenging and threatening circumstances and issues. In a few days what we learned cognitively has faded and we have reverted to what really drives our behavior and attitudes all along, our Affective. The child is back in charge! Libraries, catalogs and lecture circuits are full of cognitive material touting change. These cannot produce long term change because they do not communicate with the Affective Domain where the decisions made by that child reside and exert their control over our adult lives and experience! To bring about significant and long term or permanent change, the Affective MUST BE ENGAGED! It can only be engaged Experientially!


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