Experiential Learning, the Hero’s Journey and Adolescent Development

Adolescence by its very nature is a time of growth and decay.  Growth in the sense that they are moving towards adulthood, and decay as they shed the shell of childhood. Our children begin to pull away from us around the age of two and continue on the path towards healthy independence.  We as adults in their lives need to recognize this natural path and manage the need for them to be safe and the need for them to take healthy risks.

One useful model for understanding this concept is the work done by Joseph Campbell, in his book: The Hero with a Thousand Faces where he introduces the concept of the Hero’s Journey.

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The budding hero goes out into the world and separates from the familiar and experiences life in a way that may challenge his/her faith, assumptions, perspectives, and beliefs.  Along the way our hero builds allies, encounters monsters and tests ending with the successful return to the familiar world changed. Sometimes this change is profound, sometimes it is minuscule nevertheless change is inevitable. As the graphic illustrates our youth comes back to the real world and is led down the pathway once again. As Campbell notes, this mono-myth is common to all cultures with small variations that are culturally specific.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle gives us insight into how to effectively process learning experiences. He built this concept based on John Dewey’s Experience in Education.  Dewey’s  key concepts in learning are: Continuity and Interaction.  Basically humans learn from every experience (Continuity) and that past experiences influence our future learning (Interaction). Kolb takes this a step further and charges facilitators to help student process the experience and systematically connect the current experiences with past and to look forward to how they will handle future events.

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If we overlay the Hero’s Journey and Give Kolb’s Cycle a small rotation, we can see our these two models developed by different men actually support one another.

Journey Illustration

The adolescent journey is not an optional task.  All our students will go through this process.  It is our task as educators (Mentors) to help the youth in our community to accept the Call to Adventure. In doing so we may become the Obi Wan to the kid that saves the Galaxy.

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