In the field of learning and development it has long been recognised that learning does not take place by simply studying a subject or watching others. In 1984, David Kolb, in his book Experiential Learning, classified the different stages of learning and developed a ‘learning cycle’ to describe the process of ongoing development. In many ways his work reflects the classic model of discipleship used by Jesus and other rabbis of his time.
Experience: The actual fabric of the lives of the disciples formed the context for their learning – working, eating, travelling, and relating to each other. Our workplaces form the backdrop for our concrete experience of life. Here we experience the satisfaction of a job well done, the frustration of delays, the joys and difficulties of working alongside others, the discipline of submitting to authority, and the need to manage our time effectively.
Reflection: Without reflection our experiences cannot teach us. As Steve Turner put it in his short poem, History Lesson: ‘History repeats itself. Has to. No-one listens.’ Jesus encouraged his disciples to reflect on what they had seen, heard and experienced. ‘Who do you say I am?’ (Matthew 16:15); ‘Where shall we find bread for these people to eat?’ (John 6:5); ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’ (Luke 24:17). Our experiences have the potential to be valuable tutors if we will reflect on them with the help of the Holy Spirit and others.
Study: This is the process of making sense of what has happened to us. It involves interpreting the events of our day or week and understanding the relationships between them. We do so in the light of what we already know – our knowledge of the character of God, the strategies of the enemy and our understanding of people, including ourselves. We increase our understanding through Bible study, spiritual reading, seeking the wisdom of others, and praying for insight. ‘Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures’ (Luke 24:45).
Experiment: The cycle of learning is completed when we put the theory into practice. Jesus sent the disciples out to preach, heal and deliver (Mark 6:12). He allowed Peter to walk on the water (Matthew 14:29). He encourages us to put our faith into practise on our frontlines – to use our actual experience of working and commuting to be the laboratory in which we experiment and practise love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
The cycle then begins again.