Experiential learning supports employee development by building knowledge and skills and offering a path for successful application in the workplace. When they learn by doing, individuals learn how to change their behavior in order to improve performance and have a greater impact in the workplace. Another benefit of experiential learning is that individuals remember as much as 90 percent of what they learned, compared to only 5 percent for traditional learning. This degree of retention helps individuals apply more of what they learned, even long after training has taken place. Here are four ways experiential learning supports employee development.
It Provides Hands-On Experience
Of all of the different ways that individuals learn, learning by doing provides a unique opportunity to transform the theoretical into the practical. In experiential learning exercises, individuals have opportunities to practice new skills and see how certain adjustments in their behavior can help them achieve a better outcome. When experiential learning is applied to workplace challenges such as leading others, managing conflict, or improving team communications, individuals don’t just read or hear about the challenges; they learn how to handle them themselves with hands-on experiences that mimic the workplace.
Participants Learn Through Facilitator-Led Debriefs
A key component of experiential learning is engaging in a facilitated debrief as a group. In the debrief, a skilled facilitator offers insights and asks probing questions that help increase each individual’s understanding and mastery of the new skills. A meta-analysis of research studies found that teams that conduct debriefs perform an average of 20-25 percent better than those that don’t. A facilitator-led debrief enhances the effectiveness of experiential learning by:
- Building conviction so that participants will want to succeed in learning new skills and applying them in the workplace
- Helping participants see the difference between what they did during a training scenario and what they can do to achieve a different outcome
- Helping participants connect the dots between their behaviors in training and desired behaviors in the workplace
It Is Not Just a Knowledge Transfer
Reading a book, watching a video, or listening to a lecture are all great ways to gain knowledge, but they don’t often translate into immediate behavior change. Experiential learning is essential for employee development because it builds knowledge and skills, both of which are critical for application in the workplace. For example, in an experiential learning session aimed at building teamwork effectiveness, participants not only learn the specific characteristics of an effective team, but they also learn and practice the required behaviors to build and sustain a high performance team. By engaging in the behaviors required for a team to operate successfully, participants learn which behaviors work well and which impede the effectiveness of the team.
It Provides Real-World Relevance
Traditional, off-the-shelf training might provide a basic overview of a range of workplace skills, but it often lacks enough relevance to be engaging for participants. Experiential learning boosts employee development and performance by putting knowledge and skills learned into a real-world context, bringing workplace skill-building to life. When people participate in an experiential learning exercise, they become fully immersed in an activity that is a metaphor for a challenge they face in the workplace. Through their active involvement in solving the problem laid out in the learning activity, combined with periodic discussions and debriefs, participants have multiple opportunities to see the parallels between the learning experience and how they can apply the new skills and knowledge at work.
Employee development relies on providing individuals with the tools to apply new knowledge and skills in the workplace. Experiential learning is an ideal choice for giving individuals opportunities to learn and practice, making it more likely they will use what they learned once they’re back at work. Through experiences that allow them to learn by doing, employees become better equipped to have a more positive and high performing impact in the workplace.