Limitations in “Learn from your experience”

by Aug 15, 2019Education, Opportunities, Popular Culture, Reflective Practice0 comments

You have likely heard people (including me!) talk about how important it is to learn from our experience. When we experience something, it imprints itself on us in a way that study alone, reading alone, discussing alone, just cannot do. In this way, we who work in training and capacity building stress the experiential nature of learning when helping adults to learn personally and professionally. 

What happens, however, when our experiences are of only a limited slice of reality?

Can’t we then learn something through experience, and accidentally generalize beyond its limitations into something much wider than it really should be?

Let me share an example of how this happened today. 

I mentioned recently that I am in Stockholm right now for the Wikimania Conference, and as I was walking back to my hotel after spending time at the Swedish History Museum, I walked by this (see photo), the Swedish Academy. You know them as the august body who awards the Nobel Prize in Literature. Anyway, take a look at the sky in this photo. See how blue and clear it is? Today was a beautiful day, warm and sunny. 

This is where it gets interesting, as I have been in Sweden only once before, and guess what? It was cold. Rainy. Cloudy. Overcast. Dark. Miserable. 

That was my lived experience of Sweden before today, and as a result I learned that Sweden has a tough climate. That was my experience. 

To be fair, intellectually I knew that my previous trip, nearly 10 years ago, of only 4 days, was not enough to realistically speak about the Swedish weather as if I were an expert. However, whenever I thought about the weather here, I immediately went to harsh in my miond, though intellectually I knew I did not know enough to justify that sudden experience. However, I learned from that previous experience and every time I thought of the climate, I shuddered.

Then my reason kicked in and I told myself it was only one time,

This is when our lived experience, what we learned by actually doing something, may not be all that accurate enough to generalize. In this way, lived experience may indeed be very limited, yet it is our experience.

Incomplete to be sure, but that is where we are.

As I write this, I am still working out how we manage lived experience and intellectually making sense of it, though I can see this challenge happening again and again, and as such need to restate the, “learn from your lived experience” to something more like, “learn from your lived experience as informed by reason and a sensitivity to assumptions.”

What are your thoughts on this?


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About Me

Jeffrey M. Keefer, Ph.D., is an educational consultant, institutional researcher and accreditation officer in higher education, professor of research methodology, nonprofit capacity building and strategic planning consultant, talent development coach, spiritual life advisor (chaplain) at New York University, spiritual director, and Wikipedian.