Learning more effectively from experience

Ioan Raymond Albert Fazey, J A Fazey, D M A Fazey

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

157 Citations (Scopus)


Developing the capacity for individuals to learn effectively from their experiences is an important part of building the knowledge and skills in organizations to do good adaptive management. This paper reviews some of the research from cognitive psychology and phenomenography to present a way of thinking about learning to assist individuals to make better use of their personal experiences to develop understanding of environmental systems. We suggest that adaptive expertise (an individual's ability to deal flexibly with new situations) is particularly relevant for environmental researchers and practitioners. To develop adaptive expertise, individuals need to: (1) vary and reflect on their experiences and become adept at seeking out and taking different perspectives; and (2) become proficient at making balanced judgements about how or if an experience will change their current perspective or working representation of a social, economic, and biophysical system by applying principles of "good thinking." Such principles include those that assist individuals to be open to the possibility of changing their current way of thinking (e. g., the disposition to be adventurous) and those that reduce the likelihood of making erroneous interpretations (e. g., the disposition to be intellectually careful). An example of applying some of the principles to assist individuals develop their understanding of a dynamically complex wetland system (the Macquarie Marshes in Australia) is provided. The broader implications of individual learning are also discussed in relation to organizational learning, the role of experiential knowledge for conservation, and for achieving greater awareness of the need for ecologically sustainable activity.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
Number of pages22
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2005


  • Adaptive management
  • Adaptable practitioners
  • Experience
  • Expert
  • Learning
  • Macquarie Marshes
  • Contextual interference
  • Qualitative differences
  • Research agenda
  • Mental practice
  • Motor skill
  • Knowledge
  • Conservation
  • Performance
  • Management
  • Acquisition


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