When cognitive, emotional and practical experiences are the “material” that a learner is supposed to gain, the success of that learning process depends on whether a learner knows what to do with this material, how to interpret and evaluate it. In many learning environments, we are used to reflecting primarily on cognitive processes. We rationalize practical experience. As facilitators and participants, in this case we feel less capable of reflecting on the emotional aspects associated with learning. But in reality, we experience feelings towards other people, roles or situations, even though these are less observed and reflected upon. Generally speaking, positive and negative feelings come up when we act in unfamiliar situations or deal with unknown issues. Therefore, it is not only a condition but a criteria of holistic learning that participants should uncover that treasure. But not all unconscious learning is firstly related to emotion.
A great deal of informal learning takes place in social activities. We experience the world and culture at the same time. We create relationships, explore what our purpose is, structure time, and (re-)create our engagement without thinking of it as a planned process. Here, non-formal education offers a space in which experiences may be reflected upon as “purposeful and useful”. Such learning is described as “learning in planned activities not explicitly designated as learning”, for example a gathering in a volunteer initiative or a seminar outside of school. In a way, holistic learning seeks to increase our consciousness of our behaviors and skills. This helps individuals see how self-development takes place.
Furthermore, an increased capacity to observe personal experience on a meta-level helps people to become active in a targeted way. In the learning spiral, we raised the importance of learners’ capacities for reflective observation. Through the use of observation, people can see their behavior from a meta-perspective. “People can step out of their own subjective points of view, putting themselves in positions to better analyze their situations.” Therefore, holistic learning shapes opportunities for such self-observation. In a broader sense, we should encourage participants to search for the unknown, to look “beyond one’s own nose”. Anyone who can observe themselves more abstractly becomes less irritated and more inspired by diverging from the status quo or even taking on new, “strange” experiences.
On the one hand, holistic learning is about emotional learning, but on the other hand it helps us understand how many individual aspects are interconnected. In schools it is very often the case that we are not encouraged to develop this “bigger picture”. Instead, we are expected to take notes that are as detailed as possible so that we can reproduce them in an exam.