One of the questions we are often asked is “What is experiential learning?” Many human resources professionals and managers come to us looking for new ways to implement corporate training. Our decades of involvement in this industry have shown us time and again that experiential learning is one of the most effective ways to engage participants and, most importantly, generate measurable results after the training is over. Read on to learn more about experiential learning; what it is, how it can be applied in the workplace, and the benefits compared to other types of training.
What Is Experiential Learning?
One of the simplest ways to describe it is learning by doing. Experiential learning includes these key components:
- An immersive activity that mimics a real-life workplace challenge
- Teaching moments that allow participants to improve by applying new skills
- A targeted debrief that connects the activity to real-world applications
In experiential learning, it is important that the experience is not seen as simply a simulation of their real world. Rather, the activity is deliberately themed to mask any connection to their day-to-day reality. For example, building a bridge between two islands to save a turtle population puts the focus on teamwork and optimizing team productivity. Throughout the exercise, a skilled facilitator introduces new challenges and provides tips for overcoming them. The challenges build progressively, and the team experiences how the new skills are beneficial, because they see the results in action. At the end of the activity, the facilitator bridges the gap between what the group learned about improving processes in the mock company and how they can do the same in their own work.
The objectives of experiential learning are to instill conviction, enable participants to learn new principles, let participants practice their new skills in a safe environment, and then give participants the confidence to apply these skills in the real world.
How Can Experiential Learning Be Used in the Workplace?
Experiential learning can be used anytime you want to teach specific skills or encourage new behaviors that support organizational goals. Some of the most common contexts for the application of experiential learning include:
- Solving a real world problem or trying a new skill, bridging the gap between theory and practice
- A safe learning environment outside of the workplace allowing participants to make mistakes and learn from them, without consequence.
- Learning by doing requires critical thinking and problem solving. The result is better retention of new concepts.
What Are the Benefits of Experiential Learning?
Organizations of all sizes are employing experiential learning because it:
- Is fun and engaging for participants
- Can be applied at every level within the organization
- Instills personal conviction about the value of changing behaviors
- Demonstrates how to apply new skills in the real world
- Creates new behaviors that last
- Provides a shared experience that participants can reference in the future
- Is a cost-effective training method, because results last longer
- Generates positive feedback from participants
If you have never tried experiential learning in your organization, now is a good time to start. Younger individuals in the workforce have high expectations for training events, and seasoned professionals are ready for a refreshing change; especially if it helps them do their jobs better.