Throughout history, there’s never been a shortage of pearls of wisdom by the greatest minds that ever lived.
The concept of experiential learning, or learning by doing, has been evidenced as early as the 4th century B.C.
The consensus by renowned educators is that theory is not understood until a person has the ability to apply it.
And yet, somehow, it is only our good ol’ education system that fails to grasp this.
Imagine if maths was taught to you by measuring ingredients in cooking or using legos to calculate the area of surfaces.
There would have been a lot more ‘A-Ha’ moments instead of cries of ‘AAAAAH’.
If you’re of the opinion that ‘learning by rote’ should be replaced with ‘learning by doing’, you’ve come to the right place.
Let’s delve into why experiential learning needs to be the way forward, not just in education, but also in employee learning and development.
If you’ve read up till now, you have a fair idea of what experiential learning is. As the name suggests, it’s learning through experience.
For example, you don’t learn how to cycle or swim by reading about it in books. You have to fall a couple (or multiple) times till you can balance by yourself, or flail your arms around in water before you can successfully stay afloat.
So, do you know who’s behind the experiential learning model? The theory was developed in 1970 by psychologist David Kolb, who was influenced by the work of other theorists like John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, and Jean Piaget.
Let’s get into the details, shall we?
According to David Kolb, for the learning process to occur, it’s important for learners to perceive information and then process it.
Thus, any learning that doesn’t include some action and subsequent reflection will never work. Ultimately, it is real-world relevance that inspires us to take action.
Kolb’s cycle of learning includes these four stages:
By testing and experimenting with our ideas, we enable the creation of new experiences, setting the cycle of learning in motion, once again. But it’s also true that the learning process may not follow this exact sequence.
Information can be perceived via Concrete Experience or Abstract Conceptualisation and then processed through Reflective Observation or Active Experimentation.
By using approaches for both perceiving and processing information, people better retain what they learn and can also apply their learnings to real-life situations.
This brings the learning process to a full circle, wherein you have successfully applied the experience you gained.
Have you ever wondered what makes some people succeed professionally despite not excelling academically? Surely, technical skills can get you the job. But it is finally soft skills that take you far.
In the previous example, we discussed how swimming and cycling cannot be learned through books. It is the same with soft skills, such as social and emotional competencies, adaptability, resilience, leadership, effective communication, problem-solving, and the list goes on.
It is impossible to teach these traits in a traditional classroom; they must either be innate or honed through experiences in the real world.
And this is precisely where experiential learning comes into play.
Now, let’s take a closer look at the ways in which experiential learning can impact employee upskilling.
To bridge the skill gaps
Learning is most effective when it is tailored to you. For this, it’s essential to determine what skills your employees need, when they will use them, and why they would want to use them. Experiential learning targets these skill gaps, enabling employees to acquire the necessary competencies required for their specific roles, leading to increased overall performance.
To improve knowledge retention
With experiential learning, you’ll never have a problem with learners being distracted. The experience is personalised and immersive enough that employees want to participate. Being actively involved, employees can delve deeper into the subject matter and retain knowledge more effectively compared to passive, one-sided instruction-based methods.
To increase commitment to upskilling efforts
Employees tend to be more motivated in experiential learning experiences as they find the process enjoyable and relevant to their roles. This intrinsic motivation can lead to higher levels of enthusiasm and commitment to upskilling efforts.
To improve teamwork
Experiential learning frequently involves team-based activities and projects, fostering collaboration among employees. Working together to overcome challenges enhances communication skills and the ability to work effectively as part of a team.
To develop critical thinking
When faced with a true-to-life scenario, employees have to think on their feet, solve challenges and make decisions quickly — an exercise often absent in a classroom setting. This process helps employees develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills, essential for adapting to new challenges and complexities in their roles.
To turn knowledge into skills for job tasks
Remember the sense of accomplishment we experience when we can connect what we've learned directly to our own work? The lesson stays with us well beyond the training moment. By providing employees with real-world scenarios and challenges, it is easy for them to apply newly acquired skills and knowledge in a context that closely resembles their actual work environment. This enhances skill transfer to their job tasks and improves performance.
To evaluate L&D initiatives
Experiential learning can be easily evaluated through various assessment methods, such as performance evaluations, feedback, and practical assessments. This allows organisations to measure the impact of upskilling initiatives and make data-driven decisions for improvement.
To develop agile workforce
Experiential learning encourages a growth mindset and a culture of continuous improvement within the organisation. Employees are more likely to seek out new opportunities for learning and development, which leads to a more adaptable and agile workforce.
To ensure long-term success
Experiential learning emphasises on real-world skills and the mindset needed to adapt to changes in the industry and the organisation. As technology and business landscapes evolve rapidly, this adaptability is crucial for the long-term success of both employees and the company.
To reduce attrition rate
Providing employees with opportunities for experiential learning demonstrates the organisation's commitment to their professional development. This, in turn, enhances employee satisfaction and loyalty, reducing turnover rates.
Now that you’re convinced about the power of experiential learning, it’s time for designing, developing and deploying the right training programs for your employees.
Let’s take a look at the different ways to implement experiential training.
Pair employees with experienced mentors or coaches who can provide guidance, feedback, and personalised support throughout the learning process. This one-on-one interaction facilitates skill development and knowledge transfer.
Provide employees with opportunities to learn new skills or improve existing ones while performing their regular job tasks. This can involve job rotations, shadowing experienced colleagues, or taking on stretch assignments that challenge their abilities.
For example, a customer support representative can learn how to handle customer inquiries by actually taking calls and addressing real customer issues under the guidance of a mentor.
Assign employees to projects that align with their learning objectives and require them to apply new skills to solve real organisational challenges. This approach encourages hands-on learning and fosters a sense of ownership and responsibility.
For example, an employee can be given the opportunity to work on a specific task or project. By managing day-to-day activities and coordinating efforts, the employee gains practical experience related to the assignment.
Conduct workshops or group activities that require collaboration, problem-solving, and creativity. These can include team-building exercises, brainstorming sessions, design thinking workshops, hackathons, and case study seminars.
For example, you can present employees with real or hypothetical case studies and have them analyse the situations and make decisions based on the knowledge they've gained.
Encourage employees from different departments or roles to work together on projects or tasks. This fosters a broader understanding of the organisation and promotes collaboration and communication among diverse teams.
Create small groups of employees who meet regularly to work on real organisational challenges. They collectively analyse the issues, propose solutions, and implement the solutions, promoting learning through action.
Role-playing exercises allow employees to step into different roles and practise their skills in a controlled setting. Use simulations and gamification to recreate real-world scenarios and challenges. This approach sets the stage for healthy competition and allows employees to practise skills in a risk-free environment, making it ideal for industries with high-stakes or dangerous work.
Utilise technology to create interactive and experiential e-learning modules. These platforms can incorporate simulations, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and gamification elements to enhance engagement and learning outcomes.
Incorporate regular opportunities for employees to reflect on their learning experiences and receive constructive feedback through one-on-one sessions with mentors. Reflection helps reinforce learning and identifies areas for improvement.
After completing a significant project, employees can conduct a reflective session to review the project's success, challenges faced, and areas for improvement. They can share their experiences and insights, fostering a culture of collective learning and reflection.
When implementing experiential learning, it's essential to align the activities with your organisation's goals and employee development needs. Combining various methods and customising the experiences to suit different learning styles and preferences can maximise the impact of experiential learning on employee upskilling.
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Sustained learning requires two things. First, to grasp what is being taught, mentally, emotionally and behaviorally. Second, to apply the learning to real-life goals, scenarios and challenges.
Here’s how enParadigm’s experiential learning simulations are taking this impactful learning approach to the next level, ensuring optimal outcomes for employees and employers.
Catalyx is a Talent Intelligence platform that empowers organisations to identify, evaluate, and enhance their employees’ competencies to achieve role-fitment.
enParadigm’s Compass is a trailblazing Hybrid Talent Development Program, encompassing simulation-driven blended learning methodologies. By using a combination of virtual/classroom workshops and self-play/group-play simulations, each learning journey provides interactive, immersive and application-oriented experiences. Active learning checkpoints and impact assessments track employees’ knowledge retention and progress.
Our innovative suite of solutions encourages life-long learning in employees, moving beyond understanding to self-reflection and effective application of knowledge.
Experiential learning is all about analysing the results of your actions, learning from them, and being able to apply those learnings immediately, supported by real-time constructive feedback. So, are you ready to leave behind outdated employee training methods and shift to learning that truly works?
With enParadigm, you get much more than a digital learning platform. By combining AI, learner analytics and experiential learning technologies, we enable an end-to-end approach towards talent development, allowing organisations to train employees with data intelligence and immersive simulations for a new paradigm of work.