One of the reasons experiential learning is such a powerful training tool is that it not only teaches new skills, but also encourages participants to change their behaviors. This leads to improvement in performance because the behavior change is sustained. Without long-term behavior change, the return on investment in training is minimal. Even when employees are taught techniques that will help them run better meetings, manage their time more effectively, or deliver on promises, if those skills are not actually used on the job, what impact has the training delivered?
Experiential learning has the power to deliver results. Why does it work so well? Because unlike many other training methods, such as listening to a lecture, experiential learning creates a visceral reaction to the training content. This feeling remains with participants much longer than the traditional training or even e-learning and becomes a point of reference for future decision-making. Through immersive activities and a skillfully facilitated debrief, experiential learning provides a range of benefits, including lasting behavior change and improved performance.
How Experiential Learning Leads to Behavior Change
Experiential learning creates an immersive environment in which participants can forget that they are doing corporate training. Instead, they are going on safari, solving a mystery, or working together on an Arctic expedition. Within this unique space, trainers incorporate immersive activities such as:
- Role-playing to enable participants to experience other perspectives.
- Group training to create a shared experience.
- Cross-training to learn about and prepare for new roles.
In addition to the immersion of experiential learning, debriefing sessions are also an essential component. The experience itself is not enough to change behaviors—it must be connected to situations in the real world. After the group has gone through a shared immersive experience and is excited and engaged about their outcomes, you have an excellent opportunity to link what they just learned to analogous workplace scenarios. After making this important connection, participants are more likely to test their new skills on the job because they have confidence that they will work—because they just experienced how they worked in the training environment.
Benefits of Experiential Learning
At Eagle’s Flight, we have seen the many benefits of experiential learning in action. We consistently see organizations meet their training and development goals for one primary reason: experiential learning leads to behavior change. It does this through:
Experiential learning feels like a real situation, making it easier for participants to translate new skills to the real world. When a training session consists of participants sitting in a lecture hall watching a presentation, even if the content resonates with the audience, it is not as memorable as exploring the Outback with your team and learning firsthand the value of maximizing opportunities.
A Safe Training Environment
Rather than simulating a workplace scenario in which it can be difficult for participants to try something new, experiential learning uses themes and metaphors to mask the connection to their day-to-day reality. Nobody wants to do a customer service role-playing scenario in front of their coworkers, but when those same principles are taught through experiential exercises, comfort levels increase and the lessons are readily absorbed.
A Captivating and Fun Experience
Participants want to solve the puzzle, complete the challenge, or win the race. The whole team has a shared goal, and it has nothing to do with their daily workload. Many employees groan at the thought of a day or two of training, but after going through an experiential learning program, they will look forward to the next one.
The training sessions are fun, but they also serve an important purpose: to improve performance. Powerful debrief sessions enable participants to see the connection to their work and how they can improve performance by applying the lessons learned.
By immediately seeing the results of their decisions and behaviors, participants can see how performance improved with certain pathways, which can then be applied on the job.
Each experience has multiple lessons that can be highlighted for various groups. The facilitator can choose which principles and lessons to explore based on the team’s objectives and performance during the experience.
Participants don’t always enter a training environment with the conviction that their behavior needs to change, but after an experiential learning program, they see why they should improve and learn how changing their behavior will yield the desired results.
Incorporate Experiential Learning into Your Training Programs
Experiential learning isn’t the only training tool you can use in your development program, but it is one of the most powerful. In addition to being effective, it is also fun and engaging.
If you’d like to explore more, read our guide, Experiential Learning: The Key to Effective Employee Development.