Progressive education that stresses on the need to learn while doing was propagated by American philosopher and educationist John Dewey in 1907. Dewey believed that a hands-on approach was a better way to learn. This theory placed him in the pragmatic school of thought.
Pragmatists propagated that your experiences must mirror your reality. According to Dewey, if students are to learn in a better way, then they must interact with their environment in order to adapt and learn. And teachers too, would benefit with this same ideal. Teachers and students must learn together, and that a classroom works best when a democratic way is followed giving equal chance to all participants to voice their opinion.
Dewey placed the emphasis on the needs and interests of the child in his approach to education. He wanted such a curriculum to be made that combined multiple subjects together and which allowed students to move in and out of a formal classroom as they gained knowledge. Dewey defined the teacher’s role more as a coordinator rather than an advisor. He wanted the teacher to focus on the various interests that a student displayed, and then help them develop specific problem-solving skills.
A major point that that Dewey emphasized on was the important role of a teacher in this process. According to him, teachers served the most necessary role here of guiding the students properly. Without understanding the content, Dewey felt that a child’s education was incomplete. And for this, a well-trained teacher is extremely important for the student.
Dewey believed that education and life were interconnected. They did not exist in vacuum and should not be treated in this same way. Students would become independent citizens only when their education was treated as a part of life, and they were prepared thoroughly for it.
Dewey disagreed with the concept of the ‘one size fits all’ way of teaching. And, how far his views are applicable can be seen by the fact that in today’s world educators believe that students learn better by actually solving problems rather than just learning about the concept. Differentiated instructional techniques are given utmost importance. The stress on innovation and invention is of utmost importance in the modern world, and so Dewey’s approach to education continues to hold a great place even now.
Dewey evaluated both traditional and progressive education systems, and felt that both these systems were not adequate for learning. While traditional education’s sole focus was on curriculum and it clearly defined the student’s path, progressive education focused on the student’s area of interest rather than that of the trainer or the subject. Dewey believed that neither of these schools were enough for a child to learn. While traditional education was too rigid, progressive education was too impulsive. He believed that traditional education left little regard for the learner’s interests and progressive education was too individualized.
So, Dewey gave a new educational theory that promoted the role of experience in education. He stressed on the fundamental principles of continuity and interaction that would in turn, augment powerful educational experiences.
Continuity ascribes to how one’s experiences, both past and present, have an impact on their future, whereas interaction refers to how one’s present situation influences their understanding. In simple words, Dewey said that a person’s experiences- past, present and future have the power to influence the way they learn. He once said: “Education is a social process. Education is growth. Education is, not a preparation for life; education is life itself.”
The Concept of Experiential Education
Dewey hypothesized that education’s focus should be on the quality of the experience, rather than the information it gave out. A quality experience would be the one where the experience is in continuity with the person’s past and future and interaction between their personal impressions and the lesson environment. Continuity would guide the learners to continue learning, while interaction would meet the learner’s needs.
His answer was experiential education that was based on the concept that learning was the best through experience, and hands-on activity directly related to the learner’s life. In experiential education, learning happens through actually doing something and then contemplating about the process that influences learning in the individual. It connects classroom learning with actual experiences and reflection. Service learning, adventure learning and workplace internships are all good examples of experiential education.
However, Dewey gives out a word of caution while using this method for all educators. He said it is very important for everyone to stay away from mis-educative and non-educative experiences. A mis-educative experience has the potential to stop or obstruct growth for future experiences. For example, a young student is allergic to gluten, and in her home economics class she is required to bake bread, then forced to taste it in spite of her objections. For other students this might be an educative experience that allows them to taste the results of the lesson. But, this student will probably end up with a stomach ache, and not likely to be inspired to continue baking outside the class. This mis-educative experience stops her educational growth. On the other hand, a non-educative experience is an experience that does not allow time or cause for reflection and growth. Most students have the experience of brushing their teeth every morning. But, they do not have any potential to gain from reflecting on it. This kind of experience does not hinder a student’s growth, however, it does not aid in it either.