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Experiential Learning vs. Standard Training: What's the Difference?

By Ian Cornett on February 21, 2017

The primary goal of corporate training is typically to improve performance on an individual, team, or company-wide level. There are multiple ways to achieve this goal, including both a variety of standard training approaches and experiential learning. In many cases, a combination of training methods employed on an ongoing basis provides the most advantages, so it’s useful to understand the benefits of each.

Standard Training—Learning by Reading, Listening, or Watching

Traditional training approaches have been used for decades with varying degrees of success. One of the main advantages of standard training is that once the materials or curriculum has been developed, it is relatively affordable to implement. Some of the tools used for standard training are:

  • Slide-based presentations
  • Videos
  • Digital training platforms
  • Training manuals
  • Classroom lectures
  • Case studies
  • Role-play scenarios
  • Group discussions
  • Exercises and activities

Although all of these standard training methods can be useful, they also come with limitations. In many cases, it is easy for participants to tune out, especially if they have no reason to actively participate. Following up a training session with a quiz can help increase engagement, but the forgetting curve tells us that much of the information that participants learned is forgotten within days or weeks of the training.

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

Experiential Learning—Learning by Doing

In contrast to standard training, experiential learning requires participants to actively engage in an immersive challenge that mirrors problems they face in the real world. The themed activity creates a metaphor for these real-world challenges and allows participants to solve them in a safe space, often without realizing that they are learning something new. By working together to find the best solution, trainees can test, learn, and hone new skills that can then be applied in the workplace.

The key to a successful experiential learning event is a skillful debrief that connects the lessons learned in the activity to the real world. Therefore, it is crucial for a facilitator to highlight the metaphor, as it enables the participants to see the parallels between the experience and the real world and also how they can improve performance on the job.  

Learning by doing is one of the most effective ways to combat learning decay and create lasting change in an organization. Participants leave the training not only with new skills that they can practice on the job, but with a strong desire to improve performance. Because they just experienced how successful they can be, they are eager to make a positive change in the workplace.

Combine Training Methods for Maximum Effect

Fortunately, you don’t have to decide between these two corporate training approaches. Combining standard training with experiential learning offers the best of both worlds. Starting the day with experiential learning will spark enthusiasm and encourage participants to continue to stay engaged. They will also be better able to connect with the training content after viscerally experiencing how their actions can have an impact, especially if other training sessions reference the skills obtained during the experiential learning event.
Organizations that take a multi-faceted training approach get the benefits of affordable training methods that are relatively easy to deploy, along with powerful experiential learning events that have the potential to create lasting performance improvement.  

Experiential Learning: The Key to Effective Employee Development

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Ian has been with Eagle’s Flight since 1997, and is Executive Vice President, Global Accounts. He holds an MBA in Finance and Marketing from the University of British Columbia. Ian spent 12 years at Nestlé Canada and brings a wide range of experience that includes practical business experience in management, sales, program design, development and mentoring. He works closely with the Global licensees to ensure their success as they represent Eagle’s Flight in the worldwide marketplace. He has developed outstanding communication skills and currently is the Executive in Charge of a large Fortune 500 client with a team of employees dedicated to this specific account. As a result, Ian has been instrumental in driving the company’s growth and strategic direction.

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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