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Experiential Learning vs. Case Studies: Which Is Right For You?

When planning training and development for your organization, it can be a challenge to choose the right methodology for your audience. The workforce includes employees from multiple generations, a great deal of which have shorter attention spans than in the past. Employees also want valuable professional development opportunities and have high expectations of how training makes use of their time. In fact, 93% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers. Companies are looking for unique and fresh ways to deliver content that is practical and relevant, and is delivered in a way that encourages active participation, and is remembered back on the job.


Two options that frequently come up when examining learning methologies are case studies, and experiential learning. Case studies are a well known methodology from higher education business schools, but experiential learning is a little newer to the corporate world. To help you make the best choice, here is a breakdown of the two methodologies, as well as the benefits and potential drawbacks of both.

Case Studies

Chances are you have encountered your fair share of case studies over time – and that familiarity is part of what makes them appealing. According to PressAcademia, “Case studies are based on an in-depth investigation of a single individual, group, or event to explore the causes or underlying principles.” In other words, it’s a chance to look at a real-life scenario and discuss how the lessons from the training apply with other participants.
 
As found in “The Case Study Method in Training and Management Education,” the benefits of case studies include:
  • Creating a sense of personal experience of the situations presented
  • Allowing participants to more deeply understand training content when cases are carefully chosen to be highly relevant 
  • Providing a chance for collaboration and group discussion so individuals can learn from different perspectives on the situations
  • Active participation because the case study concludes with presenting findings
  • Creating an understanding of the ambiguity and complexity of the given situation because the focus is on the process rather than on the solutions the groups arrive at

Case studies can be a really helpful way for participants to test their judgement on how they would handle the scenario at hand. However, one possible limitation of case studies is that they are theoretical – you can have deeply valuable discussions about what you would have done, but there is no opportunity for learners to put the theories to the test and practice the concepts discussed.

Learn how you can adopt experiential learning into your training and  development initiatives with this guide.

Experiential Learning

While the experiential learning methodology itself is nothing new, adapting it to corporate training and development is a relatively recent development. In the mid-1980s, David Kolb published his theories that learning requires the understanding of abstract concepts that can be adapted and applied to various situations. The driving force behind the understanding of new concepts is learning through experience.

Since then, this methodology has only grown in popularity among organizations around the world and become an essential part of many practical training and development solutions. Through the use of interactive, hands-on exercises that mimic the workplace, employees learn practical and relevant skills and behaviors in a way that builds conviction to change, and the confidence and competence in applying those changes back on the job. This methodology goes beyond knowledge transfer; it supports real behavior change, mindset transformation, and skill mastery. Talk about a powerful approach to corporate learning.

Other benefits of experiential learning include:

  • Relevant for a modern workforce 
  • Appeals to a variety of learning styles 
  • Improves employee performance across the organization It builds competency in soft skills applicable for any role at any level within the organization.
  • Uses hands-on activities to promote engagement in the classroom 
  • Creates a safe environment to practice training content and as such, builds confidence to apply the new knowledge and skills back on the job

Experiential learning is valuable and engaging because enables employees to make direct connections between their own actions and desired performance outcomes, resulting in better performance. This hands-on approach allows participants to not only apply the lessons, but to experience the results of applying those lessons.

Striking an Effective Balance Between Either Methodology Is The Answer

Case studies and experiential learning both actively engage learners, requiring them to develop a deeper level of understanding of what was presented in class. By engaging participants in active learning opportunities, you are providing a much more valuable learning experience than if you were to simply present the information. With case studies, learners get to do a deep-dive into possible outcomes. With experiential learning, participants apply the lessons in hands-on exercises and experience the resulting outcomes. Using a mix of both methodologies in your overall organizational training and development strategies ensures that your workforce is getting a chance to apply the training in different ways. 

Experiential Learning: The Key to Effective Employee Development

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Since 1991, John has acquired extensive experience in the design and delivery of a diverse portfolio of programs. In addition to his executive responsibilities as President of Leadership and Learning Events, John is considered a valued partner to many executive teams. His insight and experience enable him to effectively diagnose, design, and implement complex culture change initiatives in a collaborative and engaging manner. Moreover, John’s experience in global implementations allows him to draw from a deep well of history to create unique and customized solutions. John’s passion for developing people makes him a sought after speaker, partner and coach and is evident in the high praise he receives from clients.

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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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