This informative guide explains experiential learning, the benefits of this methodology, and how you can use it within your own organization. Keep scrolling to read more or fill out the form to access a PDF version today.
What is experiential learning?
Why you should invest in experiential learning
Examples of experiential learning
FAQs of experiential learning
Whether on its own or combined with other training strategies, experiential
learning can transform your employee development strategy. Have you been
looking for a fun and engaging way to teach new skills and create lasting behavior
change in your organization? Read on to learn more about the impact experiential
learning can make in your organization.
In this guide, you’ll learn about:
Experiential learning is a training approach that yields typical retention rates of 80-
90 percent. This is a significant improvement when you compare experiential learning vs. traditional training methods that have retention rates as low as 5 percent.
If you think of a teaching spectrum with isolated training activities on one end and
simulations on the other, experiential learning is in the middle. The experience is
clearly linked to the tasks participants must perform in the workplace, but it is not
an exact replication of the work environment
To be successful, an experiential learning program must have eight essential
When all of these elements are combined, the result is a learning experience that participants are excited to engage their confidence to apply their new skills back on the job.
In the mid-1980s, David Kolb published his theories on learning. His belief was 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 having new experiences.
Kolb proposed that there is a four-stage cycle of learning that includes:
His framework also includes four separate learning styles, because everybody
prefers a specifc way of learning. The four styles assume that people can either be
feeling or thinking, but not both, and that they can either be watching or doing, but
The four-stage cycle of learning addresses all of these learning styles:
Experiential learning theory supports and enhances Kolb’s ideas, incorporating three additional concepts:
Also known as andragogy, this concept assumes that prior experiences should provide the basis for learning activities. In practice, this means that activities that center on problem-solving allow participants to draw from their previous experiences, both in real life and in the training session. During the training activity,
participants can learn from the decisions they have made and adapt their behaviors based on those lessons.
Transformational learning occurs when
This concept draws directly from Kolb’s theories to create an immersive experience that enables participants to:
• Understand how their behaviors inﬂuence outcomes
• Analyze why specific actions produce certain results
• Connect the lessons learned to real-life challenges
• Experiment with new behaviors to test the outcomes
Eagle’s Flight Founder and CEO, Phil Geldart, used all of these concepts early in his career when set out to solve the common challenge of delivering an engaging and effective training session, in this case specifically for time management and managers. Working for Nestlé at the time, he developed Gold of the Desert Kings™ as a metaphor for the daily reality of those working in the factory.
He provided a concrete experience (an adventure through the desert to collect gold) that would allow them to understand a new concept (planning and time management).
Rather than listening to a presentation or reading a case study, they were learning by doing.
During the activity, they were able to draw from prior experience, both from their daily work and from the activity itself. As each “day” progressed in the adventure, they were able to learn from the mistakes and successes of the previous “days," leading to learning through experience.
A debrief at the end provided the opportunity for reflective observation.
Through this debrief, participants were guided through the abstract conceptualization necessary to link the activity to their daily work and consider how they could manage their time better on the job. This led to an "Aha!"
They were then able to use active experimentation in the workplace to see the results of changing their behaviors.
Eagle’s Flight continues to use the experiential learning method in all of our work for clients. In addition to time management, we use experiential learning to teach concepts such as teamwork and collaboration, sales effectiveness, customer centricity, leadership, and more.
An engaging, immersive experience pulls participants out of the daily grind. Most of
the time, they’re having fun working together to overcome a challenge, and they are
not even aware that they are learning valuable new skills. This is because the use
of a well-crafted metaphor allows participants to test new skills and behaviors in a
safe setting outside of typical workplace scenarios.
An accelerated timeline allows people to quickly see the results of their actions,
make corrections, and learn from their mistakes and successes. At the end, a
facilitated debrief links the lessons learned in the experience to situations in the
workplace. Participants can see how their new skills can be applied in the situations
they experience on a daily basis.
All of this leads to behavior change because participants have personally
experienced the results that come with applying their existing skills (both successes
and failures), and they are then more inclined to do things differently next time.
They draw their own conclusions about the power of applying new approaches and
behaviors back on the job, which is why experiential learning has a higher retention
rate than other training methods.
Traditional training methods include:
The primary difference between these methods and experiential learning is that experiential learning focuses on learning by doing and allows participants to test new skills in a safe environment. Another key element that experiential learning provides is a facilitated debrief that connects the training content to real-life situations in the workplace.
Like any type of training approach, experiential learning has pros and cons.
Fortunately, many of these possible challenges can be easily overcome. For
example, costs for experiential learning are comparable to other types of training,
and a strong and measurable ROI means that, over the long term, you’re actually
getting more for your money. Additionally, the risk of not having a competent
facilitator can be avoided by working with the experts at Eagle’s Flight.
There are many reasons to incorporate experiential learning into your training
and development strategy. Experiential learning benefits include:
An all-encompassing theme with an immersive experience ensures total
engagement. Participants in experiential learning activities are only thinking
about the task at hand. On the other hand, at a passive learning event, such as a lecture
or seminar, participants can mentally (and sometimes physically) check out. With
experiential learning, learners are all-in for the duration of the program—and
they’re having a great time!
Because experiential learning is fun, trainees want to participate. They want to win
the challenge. After completing an experience, participants have a chance to reﬂect
on what just happened and why. With the help of the post-experience debrief, they
come to personally see the link between their actions and their results. They make
the connection between how to win in the game and how to apply the same lessons
to win at work.
Experiential learning also works because an intense shared experience fosters
new connections between team members that carry through to the workplace.
Coworkers gain a new sense of trust and also encourage each other to continue
applying their new skills.
When taking an experiential approach to training, the debrief is crucial. It’s the point where the metaphor is revealed, and participants can connect the dots between training and real life. This is when they see that—by applying the same actions and behaviors they can win at work in the same ways that they were able to win in the experience.
The debrief must happen immediately after the experience, while participants
are still engaged, in order for them to see the link between their actions and their
results. During the debrief, participants examine alternative actions or behaviors,
which reinforces the value of developing new skills and behaviors to see better
results next time. Additionally, the facilitator must have the expertise to guide
the discussion in the direction that will stimulate the participants. To do this, they
must be familiar with the group dynamics and have a deep understanding of the
challenges the participants typically face at work.
When making an investment in training, you naturally expect to see a return.
Measuring employee development validates your efforts and allows you to see
how training impacts performance and profitability. Identify the key performance
indicators that are most relevant to your business, as well as your training goals,
and measure against them.
Experiential learning provides better ROI than other training methods because of
higher retention rates and strong motivation to apply new skills in the workplace.
Implementing a measurement and retention strategy can help you maximize ROI,
so consider this as you roll out your experiential learning program.
Experiential learning can be used to teach a wide range of concepts, including:
Developing emerging leaders and encouraging continual learning in seasoned
leaders will give your organization a competitive advantage. Experiential learning
can be used to teach valuable competencies such as:
An organization’s culture is defined by how the people in it behave. You can help
shape employee behavior and mindsets through experiential learning to create a
culture that emphasizes values such as:
Many of the skills that contribute to high performance can be taught through
experiential learning, including:
Providing team members with the skills and competencies they need enables them
to work together more effectively. By its very nature, experiential learning fosters
teamwork and collaboration, but you can go one step further and tailor each
program to make this a focus. Identify the training goals for specific teams, and
select the experiential learning programs that best ft.
Because experiential learning is often a relatively new concept, many people often have questions. Find below the most common frequently asked questions (FAQs) of experiential learning.
Experiential learning can be used on a stand-alone basis or as a component of a
traditional training program. Training programs that require intense simulations
or physical skills, like piloting an aircraft or captaining a ship, are not good fits for
experiential learning. However, even those professionals can benefit from learning
the skills and competencies necessary for leading teams or making strategic
The importance of experiential learning is that people at every career level can benefit from it. To make it optimally effective, be sure to tailor each experiential program to the mix of experience levels in the room or to any cultural elements, but because it is so customizable, experiential learning can be used to teach everyone from entry-level employees to seasoned executives all over the world.
Experiential learning is not a new concept, and its benefits are well documented.
The true results of experiential learning are determined by measuring outcomes
The right metrics will depend on the desired competencies, but could include
repeat sales, more billable hours, or higher results on internal employee
Feedback from participants has shown us time and again that experiential learning
works. When individuals tell us years after the event that it was the best training
they ever had and that they continue to actively employ what they learned, we can
say with confidence that experiential learning creates lasting behavior change.
A truly effective experiential learning program will combine four important concepts. Each step builds on the last, and all of them are necessary for achieving success. The four critical steps in experiential learning are:
Building conviction ensures that participants become motivated to learn new skills and apply them in the professional arena. With experiential learning, you can build conviction by demonstrating a knowledge gap that leads to poor results or unfortunate consequences. When participants see that they do indeed have something to learn, they become invested in the training process.
Providing knowledge through experiential learning will produce lasting results because participants will have more to draw on in the future Instead of relying on the memory of a video or book, individuals who have learned lessons by making mistakes, taking steps to improve for next time, and understanding what behaviors contributed to their success will be more likely to implement lasting behavior change. Ongoing engagement such as periodic check-ins and refresher exercises also helps keep the new information at the forefront.
One of the greatest advantages of experiential learning is that it can be used anytime
there is a desire to build competence. Although it can be employed as a stand-alone event, if your business strives for continual improvement, experiential learning should be a regular component of a progressive training program.
For younger generations that are just getting started in the workforce, experiential learning is widely accepted because they have more experience learning through games and activities. People who have been employed for at least a few years generally welcome the opportunity for personal and professional growth, especially if they can have fun while they’re doing it. Experienced professionals who have already had to sit through their share of passive learning programs find experiential learning to be a refreshing change of pace and a more effective alternative.
The cost of experiential learning is comparable to other types of training, but because the results are longer-lasting, it is a more cost-effective solution. Because participants retain the information for much longer (in many cases, a lifetime), you do not have to invest in training as frequently, so you can focus on building skills rather than reteaching them very other year.
Experiential learning can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Because
experiential learning is significantly more effective and provides lasting results, the
payback is greater for the time and money invested.
In comparison to other types of training, participants who spend the same amount of time in an experiential learning program will be much better prepared and more enthusiastic about implementing their new skills in the real world, and they will remember the content they learned for longer.
Simulations and gamification are both effective teaching tools, but they are distinctly different from experiential learning. When it comes to experiential learning vs. simulations, is the debrief during experiential learning sessions that sets it a part. At this time, a facilitator links the game-like experience to the real world so participants understand how they can apply what they learned to their jobs.
This use of metaphors is also what makes experiential learning different from a simulation, which is an exact replica of what individuals will experience in the workplace. Simulations are essential for some industries, and helpful for others, but they have limitations with respect to the types of skills and concepts they can teach.
Experiential learning gives participants a universal reference point and a common language they can use long after the event in order to apply the lessons learned It’s not uncommon for these shared experiences to become part of the company culture and stay ingrained in the minds of participants long after the event.
More importantly, you can expect them to continue to apply their new performance optimization skills for the rest of their careers. Support post-course content retention with periodic discussions about the successes and challenges that individuals have faced since the training. Measuring improvements and rewarding individuals for their success are also important motivators that can help keep up the momentum and encourage individuals to continue to apply their new knowledge.
An expert debrief is critical to the success of experiential learning. Without it, participants have a fun training experience but don’t know how to connect it to the real world. In-house facilitation is possible, but the individual must have the necessary skills and experience. Working with a trusted partner like Eagle’s Flight ensures that the necessary facilitation skills are provided while alleviating the burden from your internal resources.
No matter who facilitates, they must have certain core competencies, including the ability to recognize which skills and abilities need more attention during the training, as many programs support multiple training goals. They must also be able to subtly guide a discussion in a certain direction. To do this, they need familiarity with the group dynamics and team challenges, as well as sufficient knowledge of the industry to encourage an informed discussion.
The impact of being part of a powerful experiential learning event can be transformative It can alter how we see the world, how we interact with others, and how we approach our commitments.
Ultimately, we are all on lifelong learning journeys We will be working to master the skills taught in experiential training sessions long after the doors close on the day. And what we’ve discovered for ourselves in the session are principles that we make our own, usually to the benefit not only of ourselves, but also those around us and with whom we work.
When you think of this in regard to your current training and development program, it may explain why you haven’t seen the level of engagement necessary to build lasting behavior change and produce the desired results. To change how people think of their learning and development journeys at your organization, and to maximize your investment, selecting the right partner is essential. Look for a strong track record of success across companies of all sizes and from a broad range of industries.
Since its founding in 1988, Eagle’s Flight has developed and refined a framework for creating predictable, sustainable behavior change. We specialize in experiential learning and provide organizations with a better outcome by truly engaging the learner. Successful organizational development programs require ongoing work, but this can easily get lost in the shuffle of daily tasks that feel more urgent. Partnering with a provider that has a strong track record of helping organizations achieve long-term measurable change will help ensure that your development goals are met.
If you would like to learn more about what a partnership with Eagle’s Flight could
look like, contact us today.
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