Experiential learning is, quite simply, learning by doing. Learning from experience can greatly enhance employee performance across a range of activities, and can be more effective than gaining knowledge solely through textbooks and lectures.
Consider this: How do you best learn to bake a cake? By reading the recipe? Or by reading the recipe, assembling and adding the ingredients in the proper order, checking the cake’s progress by peering through the oven door, and then savoring and sharing the final result?
Experiential learning allows employees to practice “baking their cake” through learning new behaviors experienced in a safe, supportive and fun environment. Research shows that knowledge is better retained through experiential learning. By piquing their interest in learning, employees are more encouraged to expand their skills and improve overall performance.
Baking analogy aside, experiential learning occurs when experiences are supported by participation, interaction, analysis, and feedback. Here are three practical experiential learning methods to help your organization improve employee performance.
Switching roles is often used to help individuals change attitudes and see things from other perspectives. During role-playing, participants perform in sometimes stressful environments, often in front of their peers. Experiencing these situations allows them to not just learn, but also become better equipped to handle real-world situations in their workplace. Role-playing also gives peers the opportunity to share honest and constructive feedback as they immerse themselves in the “game” aspect of the role-playing experience.
2. Group Training Events
Group learning offers participants real-life scenarios in which they, once again, learn by doing. While similar to role-playing, group training events can further entrench learning through an interactive game. In fact, many participants don’t even realize they’re learning new skills. By choosing a program that’s specifically designed to address the issues within your organization (for example: breaking down silo’s, developing partnerships, or improving customer service, individuals learn real-world skills, resulting in sustained behavior change.
Helping employees learn about other jobs or areas of the organization can ready them for their next roles. Through cross training, participants are:
- Exposed to new areas of the company
- Broadening their skillsets
- Gaining insight into the bigger picture
- Interacting with peers they might not typically engage with
Organizations that are fully committed to employee development reap the rewards as evidenced in greater levels of job satisfaction and engagement, which can lead to higher productivity and longer employee retention.
For trainers, their own job performance can be improved as they respond to questions and explain their processes from a “teacher’s” perspective. Equipping employees with the learning they need to support the organization, build their careers, and move to higher-level roles can lead to a greater competitive advantage.
Experiential learning is engaging by nature and with the right method, this often translates into genuine, positive change that delivers consistently better results, and more engaged, satisfied employees eager to embrace and participate in a learning culture.