People learn in many different ways. Some need to hear someone talk about something to digest it, while others need to watch someone do it or even try themselves before they master it. Researchers even say that most individuals use a combination of different learning styles. Though there is certainly a time and place for more traditional learning—via lecture, presentation, or video, for example—experiential learning is unique in that it not only addresses the needs of a range of different learning styles, but also delivers some key benefits that other kinds of training simply can’t.
Your organization may be using traditional training and seeing limited results. In that case, here are five reasons to incorporate experiential learning into your training and development program.
Reason #1: People Learn Best by Doing
People typically don’t learn to ride a bike by simply watching someone else do it or having it explained to them. Similarly, in the workplace, giving a compelling presentation or having a tough performance discussion is often most effective when lessons are brought to life with hands-on practice. With experiential learning, people learn by doing, practicing, and engaging with learning content. Learning by doing shows individuals the benefits of adjusting their behavior to master a particular skill or learn a new concept.
Reason #2: People Retain More of What They’ve Learned
Most people forget 70 percent of what they’ve learned within the first 24 hours, which can make a huge impact on the ROI of training. Experiential learning limits learning decay by engaging individuals and making them active participants in their own learning. Not only do individuals learn by doing, but they also learn from their mistakes as they practice and connect with the lessons learned as they begin to master a new skill. As a result, learning retention for experiential learning is about 75 percent, compared to only 5 percent of information retained long-term when someone tells you how to do something.
Reason #3: Experiential Learning Mirrors the Workplace
Mastering a new skill is challenging enough, and it can be even more difficult if the learning content is out of step with the realities of the workplace. Experiential learning combines complex work challenges with engaging, fun scenarios that help people connect the dots between what they’re doing and how it can be done differently or better. The scenarios may seem unrelated to the workplace, but they are actually almost always highly relevant to real work challenges. Through a facilitated debrief at the end of each activity, participants are shown how their successes (or failures) in training reflect their lives on the job, how their behavior influences results, and how to apply what they’ve learned at work (something often missing from traditional training methods).
Reason #4: It Builds Conviction to Do Things Differently
Though a presentation, video, or other traditional training method might offer up a good deal of helpful information, each can be tuned out so that individuals are listening or watching only on a superficial level. With experiential learning, individuals are watching and listening, but they’re also doing, which means they are involved with the learning material in a way that causes them to think and question while they’re learning. Furthermore, experiential training that features an in-depth debrief tied to results helps individuals build the conviction to want to change their behavior. The debrief allows them to clearly link the lessons learned with challenges they face at work so they develop a real desire to improve.
Reason #5: Experiential Learning Actually Changes Behavior
The ultimate goal of any training program is to achieve lasting behavior change, and experiential learning does that. Experiential learning bridges the gap between theory and practice so that people not only learn why they should change their behavior, but how to do so in the real world. Experiential learning is about more than having learners try a new skill; it is aimed at specific goals for behavior change and clearly lays out expectations so that each learner understands how their behavior will look after training has occurred.
Experiential learning can be a valuable part of any training agenda because it can boost performance and create lasting behavior change, thus supporting a healthy training ROI. Instead of “sitting through a training program,” participants in experiential learning take an active role and have opportunities to put their heart, mind, and hands into learning a new behavior that relates directly to the workplace.