Employee development is a chief objective for any organization because a workforce with relevant, up-to-date skills and knowledge is well-poised to perform at its best. For companies to succeed in today’s digital age, employee development programs must actively support regular skill development. In a recent survey of senior HR leaders, employee training and development was named as one of the top three factors influencing companies’ ability to build a workforce prepared to deal with advances in digital and other technology.
There are many ways to approach employee development, including traditional training methods such as seminars, lectures, and presentations. Stretch assignments and lateral moves are also useful ways to support employee development. One employee development method that can offer benefits to any workforce is experiential learning. It is broadly applicable and offers lasting behavior change and performance improvement. Here are seven reasons why experiential learning is an effective employee training and development alternative to consider.
A primary objective of any corporate training initiative is to improve performance and deliver results. Measuring changes in behavior and outcomes against previous performance helps you quantify the degree to which training offers a strong return on investment (ROI). Experiential learning boosts training ROI because people learn by doing, which increases the amount of learning content they’ll retain and apply at work.
Experiential learning also helps people connect the dots between what they’re doing now and what they can do going forward in order to be more effective in the workplace. By using immersive activities, this learning style builds not only the knowledge and skills to improve performance, but also the desire to do so, which translates into real behavior change. Some of the specific ways experiential learning provides a healthy ROI include:
Developing leaders - Helps to build a strong leadership pipeline of individuals poised to fill key leadership positions as the organization grows.
Boosting performance - Improves employee performance against predefined key performance indicators and other metrics.
Changing mindsets - Helps to achieve shifts in employee mindset so that people want to be more effective at work.
Fun and Engaging
Training is most effective when it’s engaging and enjoyable rather than when it’s a required “check the box” exercise. For example, a team building activity that involves everyone is likely to be more engaging than one where everyone is sitting in a room listening to a dry presentation. Experiential learning makes training feel less like a boring obligation because it is fun and engaging. Experiential learning increases engagement and supports learning retention, so people don’t just remember what they learned, but they also remember how enjoyable the learning experience was. Through shared experiences that involve participants’ hearts, minds, and hands, experiential learning helps people learn as they participate in a vivid, immersive experience that takes them on a journey, quest, or problem-solving adventure.
Improves Employee Performance at All Levels
Experiential learning is not made for just one group of people; it offers benefits for individuals at all levels of the organization. Soft skills are critical for success in any role, and experiential learning helps individuals at all levels develop soft skills such as communication, problem-solving, and accountability, to name a few.
Leadership development is another area that works particularly well with experiential learning because training is often designed to replicate real-world challenges while also giving individuals at all levels a safe environment in which to practice and hone new leadership skills and behaviors. Experiential learning helps to develop leaders at all levels by showing them first how to lead themselves, and then how to lead others.
Enables Cross-Discipline Learning
Just like a presentation or lecture isn’t going to automatically provide individuals with the skill set needed to coach or lead others, other types of training can’t be universally applied to any discipline. Conversely, experiential learning can, because individuals in different departments, functions, or work units can all learn by doing. For example, experiential learning can be incorporated into time management training, as well as teamwork or presentation skills training—all skills that are essential for a broad range of functions and types of positions. Although individuals may apply the skills learned in experiential training differently, each is afforded the opportunity to develop new skills that will help them change their behavior at work.
Can Be Used in Conjunction with Traditional Training
Although traditional training methods and experiential learning provide different benefits, they can actually be used together to aid employee development. Incorporating experiential learning exercises doesn’t mean that your existing training programs must all be abandoned. A day of training might be dedicated solely to experiential learning activities, or might start with an experiential learning exercise and end with a video, case study, or role-play. Experiential learning can also provide individuals with the opportunity to take a deeper dive into learning content that may have previously been introduced in reading material or other more traditional training sessions.
Appeals to a Variety of Learning Styles
There are many different learning styles present within any given team or organization, and training will be most effective if it appeals to all learning styles. Not everyone can sit and hear a lecture or watch a video and feel immediately prepared to go perform a new task or process. Some may be visual learners, while others may need to read or write something down in order to fully understand it. Experiential learning addresses the learning needs of a range of learners because it is presented in a way that allows everyone to connect with the content in some form. Experiential learning works well for multiple learners, such as:
Visual learners - The vivid details featured in experiential learning exercises help these learners visualize new behaviors and scenarios that can help them be more effective in the workplace.
Logical learners - Experiential learning challenges the logical learner’s decision-making and problem-solving skills, helping them to identify new ways of behaving.
Hands-on learners - These learners enjoy learning by doing, which is at the heart of experiential learning.
Relevant to the Workplace
There’s no point in delivering training that leaves people unsure of how to apply what they learned. The reality is that some training programs miss the mark in this area. A number of studies have found that training is often not relevant enough to the workplace, leaving employees feeling unprepared or unqualified for promotion.
Experiential learning, however, is highly relevant to the workplace because it incorporates components that help people see how what they are learning applies to their reality on the job. As individuals learn by doing in experiential learning exercises, they are sharpening their critical-thinking and problem-solving skills for later application in the workplace. To further drive home key messages and concepts, a skilled facilitator explains how what they did in the learning exercise relates to their experiences at work. Although experiential learning exercises are a kind of metaphor for the workplace, participants leave training seeing a direct link between training and the realities of their jobs.
Experiential Learning: A Key Component for Employee Development
Employee development is a critical requirement in the workplace; individuals must keep their skills and knowledge sharp and ready for advances in technology, industry change, or internal company change. A useful tool for any organization, experiential learning engages the whole person, helping to bridge the gap between theory and real-world applicability. With experiential learning, employees don’t just “go through” training; they are active participants in their own learning and development and come out of training with new behaviors that will improve their performance.