Experiential Learning for VisComm Students

I have been teaching at the college level for eight years now: I teach Visual Communication in the form of art and graphic design, encompassing typography, drawing, printmaking, and ideation. Over the years, I have organically clung to a philosophy of welcoming students into the realm I teach as simply and as clearly as I can. Everyone can be a cultural producer, everyone is inherently creative.

Recently my college (City Tech) was told it needed to prove its curriculum was experiential in nature or face budget cuts. I took a moment to examine my practice and found it pretty invigorating.

Experiential Learning Cycle

I am just really dipping into this, but there are some theories out there I find compelling. One of the mainstays for the discussion is that of David A. Kolb. He contends there are different phases of learning and different sorts of learners.

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Reflection
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation
  4. Active Experimentation

Experiential Learning Styles

Peter Honey and Alan Mumford

  1. ‘Having an Experience’ (stage 1), and Activists (style 1): ‘here and now’, gregarious, seek challenge and immediate experience, open-minded, bored with implementation.
  2. ‘Reviewing the Experience’ (stage 2) and Reflectors (style 2): ‘stand back’, gather data, ponder and analyse, delay reaching conclusions, listen before speaking, thoughtful.
  3. ‘Concluding from the Experience’ (stage 3) and Theorists (style 3): think things through in logical steps, assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories, rationally objective, reject subjectivity and flippancy.
  4. ‘Planning the next steps’ (stage 4) and Pragmatists (style 4): seek and try out new ideas, practical, down-to-earth, enjoy problem-solving and decision-making quickly, bored with long discussions.

I have conflated the Kolb learning cycle with the Honey & Mumford Learning Styles below:


This is a fine place to start, but I believe you are not always one type of learner. You are all of them at different points of your life and in each situation, and the sooner you know this about yourself the better. Successful learners have the metacognitive capability to recognize where they are and how to push themselves to the next needed stage. Successful educators are the ones who can help students gain this perspective about themselves as well as impart the skills and knowledge in the particular discipline.

Just so you know, there is another model by Phil Race that is more of a ripple that I quite fancy. As the Kolb model and framework have shaped a lot of the discussion I have heard so far, I will address it first.

The Design Cycle

If you look at the design cycle (I am attaching a common one below), there are immediate correlations.


It is an obvious step to then highlight the types of design thinking one must do in each phase, highlighting the many modes of ideation, implementation, and launching any Visual Communication student, be s/h/ze in fine art or design.

I would also like to point out that the design cycle almost always articulates the importance of measuring success in some way. Although this is folded into the Experiential Learning Cycle, I think it could be easily forgotten. The Design Cycle taught me how to develop criteria and measure my progress by them. I learned how to manage a project of any type, I learned how to finish phases of production, I learned how to actually get things done. This is why I think all VisComm students must learn project management and production. We have to be able to bring all visions into fruition, no matter how lofty.

This is one of many reasons I am so keen on supporting and promoting the STEAM movement in academia: in the arts, we have been inherently and profoundly experiential all along. My lil ole BFA in Printmaking prepared me more for the world than my BA in French could have. Not to knock my French training or instructors, but they could never have prepared me for the vicissitudes of the physical world, the need to adapt my thinking, and the joy of making something actually work. You know what enabled me to teach myself coding in 1996? The years of figuring out why one ink was behaving on a substrate in a situation while pursuing a vision, the years of tinkering with presses and tools, the years of losing all fear in the face of not knowing very much at all.

My training in French and Literature certainly provided directions, but my art training taught me how to read my inner compass and to survey the landscape around me. Today, I am morally compelled to activate and empower my students in the same way. In order to create, one must have the skills to ideate, research, iterate, launch, and measure success. We must be able to be goal-driven as a part of our processes, but of course not at all times.