Experiential learning is one of the most engaging ways to transfer information, teach new skills, and change behaviors. There are several essential factors that contribute to its success, and each of them is critical. The eight components that make experiential learning effective are:
1. An Immersive Experience
When done well, experiential learning takes participants out of their day-to-day habits and into a completely different world. They become fully immersed right away and stay engaged for the duration of the event.
2. An Engaging Theme
A major component of the immersive experience is the theme. When participants first walk into the room, they should be surrounded by the theme. If it was a jungle theme, they could walk through bushes as they come in the door and hear tropical birds in the background. Whatever the theme is, it can be carried through the entire program from the food selection to minute details like the font on the agenda.
3. Fun and Captivating
The more fun an activity is, the more likely people are to participate and engage. They won’t want to miss out on the shared experience, and they will be completely focused on the content being delivered. Whether they are playing a game or solving a mystery, if participants are having fun, they won’t want to stop.
4. A Relatable Experience
The experience must be relatable so that participants can identify with it. For example, a highly technical scenario is probably not the right fit for most people, but anybody can put themselves in the shoes of a group expedition to the Wild West or a fast-paced race to a finish line.
5. Produce Objective Results
Participants must be able to come away from the event with the ability to identify what they learned, what the results were, and how they performed. This is one of the factors that makes experiential learning not just a fun day outside the workplace, but a valuable learning experience.
6. Cause and Effect
Along with objective results, participants must be able to tie their actions to consequences. If they can recognize that because they took a certain action or made a particular decision, they got specific results, then they can link the cause and effect. For example, asking a certain question in a group meeting led to a faster decision-making process—the cause and effect are clear. The key to a successful experiential learning program is enabling participants to make this cause-and-effect link themselves. They experience the desired results when they behave in a certain way.
7. Build Conviction to Change
Recognizing the cause and effect leads to the conviction to change. When participants don’t get the results they want, and they realize that they have the power to do something about it, they acquire the conviction to change. They want to know what they can do to get better results.
8. Results-Based Debrief
All of the fun, immersive, engaging activities in an experiential learning program culminate in a debrief that links the experience to the real world. The behavior that caused a desirable effect and led to a successful result can be applied on the job. Without this link, participants might have had a fun day where they learned something new, but they don’t know what to do with that new knowledge. The debrief is the opportunity to tie it all together.
As you can see, each of these eight components builds on the others. A grand theme and fun activities will be wasted without a relatable metaphor and objective results that demonstrate cause and effect. Linking the exercise to specific scenarios on the job shows participants how they can apply their new skills in the work environment, and because they all shared the memorable experience, they will support each other and work together to reproduce the success they had during the experiential learning program.