The Role You Play

David Kolb (1984) theorized that learning is experiential.  He proclaimed that the best learners are able to fully immerse themselves in the learning experience, reflect on those experiences, formulate ideas, and then integrate those experiences and ideas into their decision-making process (Evans, Forney, Guido, Patton, & Renn, 2010). When our students go away to college we hope that they develop not only intellectually, but socially and psychologically as well. Part of that development process, according to Kolb, relies on their ability to reflect on their experiences. Families, this is where you come in. You are able to assist in the learning process by helping your student reflect on his/her experiences. You can ask reflective questions and find out how your student is learning, within and outside of the classroom. For instance…

  • Talk about books especially if your son/daughter is the type of person who enjoys reading outside of what is assigned. Have you read a good book lately? Maybe your student has too. Talking about literature is a great way to find out what your student is interested in and how his way of thinking has changed since being in college.
  • Ask your student about his/her favorite faculty member or administrator and what makes that person such a great educator. Helping your student reflect on his experiences and influences will help him develop an understanding of how he learns.
  • If your student has a job or internship, ask what he/she likes and dislikes about it. Then, offer suggestions for how he can manage the dislikes and make the most of on what he enjoys. Talking through these experiences allows your student to reflect on his strengths and weaknesses, especially in a professional environment.
  • Ask about your student’s social life. The social aspect of college is a learning experience too, and is a great source of measuring development. Ask your student about his friends or the social organizations that he has joined. Your student may want to complain about a roommate or share his accomplishments in an organization. Talk through his experiences and help him reflect on how he has handled the challenges and triumphs.
  • If your student has not chosen a major, talk about the best and worse classes he has taken, so far. Talk about why he did/did not enjoy the classes. Was it a lecture-style class or more discussion-based? Were the tests made of multiple-choice answers or short essays?  Help him think about the classes he could pursue, and offer tips on how to survive the classes that he finds challenging.
  • Share some of the experiences that helped you develop as a young adult. Your student still values your opinion and your tips may help him re-think how to handle certain situations. Also, by sharing your experiences you are relating with your student and staying in tune with him. Keeping the lines of communication open, especially during such an important developmental period, helps you both maintain a healthy relationship.


Tips taken from Parent Pages (2007)

Evans, N. J., Forney, D. S., Guido, F. M., Patton, L. D., & Renn, K. A. (2010). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Upper Saddle River, NJ. Prentice Hall.


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