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5 Ways Experiential Learning Optimizes Training Impact

By Dave Root on February 19, 2019

Effective training throughout an organization ensures individuals possess the skills and knowledge they need to excel in their roles and drive business results. Like any investment, you want to ensure the investment in training is worthwhile and that all training activities achieve their maximum potential impact. With the rapid pace of change affecting companies in nearly every industry, it’s important to ensure individuals possess not only the necessary technical skills to be effective, but also the soft skills that will help them better manage themselves and others.  

There are many ways to deliver training, but experiential learning offers a unique experience that brings about sustainable behavior change. It can work well on its own and can also be woven into other training delivery methods, such as case studies and role-plays. With immersive activities and powerful debriefing sessions, experiential learning offers some unique benefits that can deepen the impact of your company learning and development programs. Here are some examples:

Improves Learning Retention

Research shows that most individuals promptly forget much of what they’ve learned. The same research has also found that opportunities to practice new skills can have dramatic positive effects on an individual’s learning retention. Experiential learning improves learning retention and reduces learning decay by bridging the gap between theory and practice. In fact, experiential learning is so effective that individuals who take part in experiential learning exercises typically achieve close to 90 percent learning retention, compared to only 5 percent for traditional learning activities such as lectures, books, or videos. That’s great news for companies, especially when the goal is to ensure the investment in training equates to dollars well spent. It’s also beneficial for the individuals participating in experiential learning exercises because they’ll be more likely to look back on their training experience and remember what they did.

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Another way experiential learning supports learning retention is by having people participate rather than sit and listen to something. Studies show that people tend to remember more of what they did than what they read or heard someone say. When individuals learn by doing in an experiential learning exercise, they use more critical thinking and problem-solving skills, which aids in better retention of new concepts. In addition, any time an experiential component is included in traditional training programs, the odds of improving employee learning retention go up.

Relevant to the Workplace

Experiential learning deepens the impact of training by mirroring the real experiences that individuals have in the workplace. Engaging, fun exercises act as a kind of metaphor for the realities of the workplace and include challenges that parallel those at work. The relevance of an experiential learning exercise helps to ensure the content of the training is directly applicable as soon as employees return to work.

When people participate in an experiential learning activity and see how it can help them at work, they naturally get excited about the potential for improvement and the ways in which they can approach their job differently. In addition, by participating in experiential learning in a safe environment, individuals can practice and learn from their mistakes without the risks associated with making those same mistakes in the workplace. Seeing the clear connection between what they learned in training and what they can do at work makes them more likely to remember and apply what they learned, which leads to better results overall.

Powerful Debriefs

A debrief at the end of each experiential learning exercise helps individuals connect the dots between what they did in the exercise and what they can do at work to be more effective. During the debrief, expert facilitators guide a conversation that enables participants to examine their behavior and see what they can change to improve their performance. Instead of individuals being left to discuss among themselves or moving on to the next exercise before they’ve fully examined what they did in the previous exercise, the debrief helps to ensure that participants are digesting learning content and can connect what they’ve learned to their work.

A debrief is more than a helpful discussion at the end of training; it is a dialogue led by a skilled facilitator that gives individuals actionable insights they can take back to the office. A truly powerful debrief will have the following components:

  • A prepared facilitator who understands the organization, its common language, and the challenges participants are facing at work

  • An engaging conversation about how participants did in the training exercise and what they could have done to achieve even greater success

  • A detailed discussion about how what they did in training correlates to the workplace and how participants can put the new concepts into practice to improve performance at work

Immersive Experience Involves the Whole Person

Highly immersive experiential learning exercises engage individuals to the extent that they become active participants in their own development. Experiential learning involves employees in the conversation rather than talking at them. For example, instead of sitting and listening to a lecture, which individuals can tune out to a certain extent, experiential learning leverages the power of a captivating story and engages the whole person. An experiential learning exercise doesn’t only impart new knowledge and skills, but also helps to build conviction in individuals so that they want to change.

Simulations and role-plays immerse individuals to an extent, but experiential learning uses a fun, themed activity to engage people and keep them interested in solving a problem or overcoming a challenge. Instead of role-playing a communication challenge employees are having at work, experiential learning might include an exercise such as coach the builder, where participants must successfully communicate to build a structure made of blocks. Having individuals participate in a fun, immersive challenge encourages more openness to learning as well as a stronger desire to improve.

Many Options for Reinforcement

Reinforcement activities are a critical component of any successful training program because they reduce learning decay and help make training “stick.” Most people need opportunities to practice and recall what they’ve learned so that key concepts become ingrained and committed to memory rather than becoming abstract topics that fade with time.

Training that can be easily reinforced will be more impactful in the long run. Not only is experiential learning a versatile tool that can be used to help employees at the individual, team, and organizational level, it is also flexible enough to work well with a variety of tools and activities that support the reinforcement of what individuals learned in training. Some examples of reinforcement tools include:

  • Online boost learning exercises — ask participants to recall what they learned in training, increasing their ability to remember it for a longer period of time

  • Coaching — provides employees with the necessary focus and feedback to model new behaviors at work

  • Surveys and assessments — help to compare employee understanding of key concepts before and after training has taken place

Implementing experiential learning can mean the difference between simply providing information and actually changing behavior. It engages individuals on a deeper level, helps them retain what they learned, and is highly relevant to the workplace. Experiential learning is a versatile training method that can be applied to leadership development, sales and customer service training, and more. It also aids in the development of skills such as teamwork, process improvement, and project management. When you include experiential learning in your organizational training program, it helps to boost sustainable performance improvement and results in a healthy training ROI.

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Dave joined Eagle’s Flight in 1991 after having spent a number of years with a Toronto-based accounting firm. Since that time, he has held a number of posts within the company, primarily in the areas of Operations, Finance, Legal, and IT. In his current role as both Chief Financial Officer and President, Global Business, Dave is focused on ensuring the company’s ongoing financial health as well as growing its global market share. In pursuing the latter, Dave’s wealth of experience and extensive business knowledge has made him a valued partner and trusted advisor to both our global licensees and multinational clientele.

About Eagle's Flight

Founded in 1988, Eagle's Flight has earned its reputation as a global leader in the development and delivery of business-relevant, experiential learning programs that achieve specific training objectives and lasting behavior changes.

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