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Linking Experiential Learning to Business Relevance

By Phil Geldart on February 14, 2017
Linking Experiential Learning to Business Relevance 1.pngIn two recent Eagle’s Flight blog posts, we discussed the experiential learning spectrum and eight essential components that make experiential learning effective. We'll also be discussing how experiential learning links to business relevance in our recent webinar. The first blog post identifies experiential learning as a fun and engaging activity that teaches new skills or concepts that can be applied in the real world:

Experiential learning falls in the middle of the spectrum. It has the benefits of fun and engaging activities but also provides some of the value that simulations offer in their realism. The key to successful experiential learning is to create a scenario that mirrors a common workplace situation but does not mimic it exactly.

The second post breaks down the many factors that contribute to a successful experiential learning event. The last in this list—a results-based debrief—is a critical element:

All of the fun, immersive, engaging activities in an experiential learning event 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.

This article discusses the crux of experiential learning: linking the engaging learning activity to business relevance in order to produce lasting results in the workplace.
Discover why experiential learning works in Phil Geldart's new book

How to Link Experiential Learning to Business Relevance

Linking experiential learning to business relevance allows employees to translate their new skills to the job, but you can’t expect participants to connect these dots on their own. An experienced facilitator who has become familiar with the business is responsible for making the learning experience relevant to the business.

The first step in an experiential learning event is for the facilitator to explain the activity and define the goals, expectations, and criteria for success. For example, the goal of the activity might be for the group to solve a series of crimes as quickly as possible. The facilitator explains that the team will be given a series of clues and that the team must work together to prioritize and organize the information in order to find the culprits before time runs out.

The group then completes the activity while the facilitator introduces new skills along the way. These helpful tips allow the teams to stay focused and make faster decisions, ultimately leading to the end goal: The crimes are solved!

After the experience is over, the facilitator describes all the steps and skills necessary to win the challenge. He or she highlights the tactics used by the most successful teams and provides feedback about the best possible solutions. Because everybody in the room just shared the same experience and faced the same challenges, they are eager to learn how they did in comparison to others and how they could have done better. The next step is to discuss how those same new concepts and skills can be applied to similar scenarios at work.

Of course, you don’t typically have to solve murder mysteries in the office, but an immersive experience for your team of detectives can help the entire team learn how to run meetings more effectively. By going through the experience of working together to quickly come to decisions in a high-pressure environment with tight deadlines, participants can see how the same skills can be applied on the job. The context might be different, but the core concepts and all of the skills that the group just practiced together can be successfully applied to make meetings more effective.

However, without a skillful facilitator to lead the debrief, this important linkage could be lost on the group. Because experiential learning is so immersive and engaging, participants can be caught up in the excitement of the game. In fact, that’s the whole point: to take them out of their usual mindset and teach new skills while having fun. The goal is to harness this excitement and get participants to apply it at work.

Why Link Experiential Learning to Business Relevance?

Connecting the experience to real life is an essential component of the learning event, and there are several reasons why this important step should not be skipped:

  • Translating theory to practice – As mentioned above, participants must be explicitly shown how what they learn can be applied on the job so that they can successfully apply their new skills in the real world.
  • Producing measurable results – The whole point of experiential learning is to produce results in the workplace. Whether you want to be more productive or create a culture of customer centricity, it is important to define metrics and measure the results. If participants don’t know what the expectations are, you can’t assume that they will succeed.   
  • Improving ROI – Experiential learning is fun, but at the end of the day, you need to know that it was worth the investment. Linking the event to business relevance and following up with measurement to track behavior change will allow you to maximize the return on the investment.

Because linking the learning event to business relevance is such an important piece of the puzzle, it’s critical to work with an experienced facilitator who takes the time to learn about your specific business challenges. Unless he or she can speak the same language as the participants, he or she will not be able to make the strong connections that are necessary for achieving long-term behavior change in the workplace.   

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