Section Name

Instruction in the Introductory Communication Course


In education today, much emphasis is placed on “experiential learning,” or learning by doing. An experiential approach to teaching allows students to participate in activities that provide concrete examples of concepts and skills being taught in class. Experiential activities seem especially appropriate in a communication class in which a focus is on developing communication competence, because becoming a better communicator involves active practice and evaluation. However, experiential learning is not totally without problems. (For more information about problems associated with experiential learning activities and tips for increasing their effectiveness, see Eisenberg, 1980; Gray & Buerkel-Rothfuss, 1985).

One area that can present problems is in the processing, or debriefing, of activities. Once an activity is completed, students sometimes need help in understanding and learning from what just happened. Instructors run the risk of being naive if they assume that the exercise alone will provide the students with enough information to be useful to them. Processing activities is, perhaps, the most important part of the experience. If done poorly, the activity may become a waste of time or, worse yet, a confusing or disconfirming experience that may be remembered forever.