How to Create the Most Effective Learning Experiences for All - Experiential Learning

Find out how to use experiential learning to boost learner engagement and business performance

Companies are increasingly investing in workplace learning and development programs to bridge skills gaps, enhance team collaboration and boost performance. Robust L&D programs offer a range of tangible business benefits, including higher employee engagement, better retention rates, risk mitigation, improved team collaboration, problem-solving, and innovative thinking skills.

One of the proven ways to enhance the efficacy of L&D programs is to ensure the learners are actively involved and engaged in the learning process. Experiential learning activities offer an immersive, fun and hands-on way for participants to learn new skills at the workplace while organizations benefit by creating sustainable behavior change.

Here is a closer look at what experiential learning involves and the different activities businesses can offer to optimize the learning experience and outcome.

Learning by doing

As the term suggests, experiential learning is about learning from experience. The concept can be traced to 350 BC in Aristotle's book Nicomachean Ethics. Just as a person builds to become a builder or lyre players play the lyre to master the art, Aristotle writes that "we learn things by doing them."

The modern approach to experiential learning is based on the theory developed by psychologist David Kolb in the 1970s. According to Kolb, learning occurs through active participation and discovery. By taking a holistic approach to learning, Kolb proposes that experiences that influence the process of learning include emotions, cognition, and environmental factors.

The learning cycle involves four stages:

  • Concrete experience
  • Reflective observation
  • Abstract Conceptualization
  • Active experimentation

The information we gain from the concrete experience is the basis for 'reflection.' These reflections help us form abstract concepts that we use to develop theories that we actively test.

Experiential learning activities in the corporate world

Here are some experiential learning activities workplaces can explore:

Business simulations - Real-world simulations engage participants with a gamified user experience. Employees collaborate with each other in a virtual environment to respond to different scenarios and make informed decisions.

Simulations provide debriefs to participants, enabling them to identify mistakes, see the impact of their decisions while guiding them on making better choices. These tools can also address different learning objectives, including team collaboration, leadership development, business acumen, and strategic decision-making.

For instance, the BALINCA simulation can be used to engage learners and build their financial knowledge of a company's operation. Business simulations where learners manage a complex process or business unit can help build business acumen, make smarter decisions and optimize value creation.

Case studies - Real-life situations and incidents that have occurred in the past are used to help learners gain valuable insights into the behaviors and skills required to navigate similar situations. Participants can be asked to utilize available data to analyze a problem or situation and provide a solution. Case studies can be used to develop critical thinking, business acumen, team collaboration, and problem-solving skills.

Role playing - These experiential training activities help employees gain different perspectives on workplace situations. For instance, a call-center employee can train by making role-play calls to their colleagues, while role-playing can help customer service executives handle difficult scenarios.

Position swapping - Swapping jobs or roles with another colleague allows an employee to learn what the other role entails. Shadowing another employee during their workday can also enable learners to gain insights into the challenges and opportunities in that job role. Cross training and stretch assignments help learners handle different responsibilities and enhance their current knowledge and skills.

Mentoring, informational interviews, task forces, a buddy system, and peer networking are some other ways to implement experiential learning at the workplace.

Business benefits of experiential learning

Effective experiential learning programs encourage active participation of learners, are fun and engaging while offering powerful immersive experiences. When combined with results-based debrief and linking cause and effect, these programs offer multiple benefits.

Strong ROI: According to a firm that specializes in leadership programs, high-performing companies utilize experiential learning three times more than low-performing ones. Experiential learning enhances learners' engagement resulting in a positive business impact. Research shows that employees retain only 5 percent when they participate in traditional learning while they retain 90 percent from experiential learning. When participants get hands-on training at the workplace and learn through experience, their confidence levels improve, leading to a high training ROI (return on investment).

Boosts employee engagement: Experiential learning experiences enhance employees' interest and engagement while helping them leverage new learning opportunities. Interesting, relevant, and fun training sessions and immersive experiences engage participants fully, unlike the tendency to tune out at lectures or presentations. Learners must use their problem-solving and critical thinking skills through their learning experience that promotes a deeper level of engagement.  

Lasting behavior change: By solving a real problem that mirrors a typical challenge faced in the workplace, learners are able to gain deeper insights into the problem. As participants are personally invested in the learning process, they become responsible for the learning outcomes. Experiential learning provides the opportunity for employees to immediately see the consequence of their decisions and make informed choices that lead to desired results.

Experiential learning can be used to impart behavioral skills such as:

  • Communication
  • Time management
  • Customer service
  • Project management
  • Delegation.

A safe place to take risks: Fear of failure is the reason why employees hesitate to take risks at the workplace. Fun and interactive themes used in experiential learning create a safe environment for employees. Designing learning exercises that mirror reality gives participants the opportunities to take risks, fail safely and learn from mistakes.

Links theory to practice: Experiential learning optimizes the effectiveness of learning by linking theory to practice. Learners have the opportunity to practice the skills and theoretical knowledge they have learned to see the real-world application of these concepts.

Real-world experiences boost the efficacy of learning

As AI, automation, and other new technologies continue to reconfigure the world of work, lifelong learning is an economic imperative. While there is a crucial need for upskilling, studies show that learning and development opportunities are important contributors to workplace happiness. Businesses rely on the 70:20:10 learning and development model where 70 percent of learning occurs through challenging assignments, experiences, and observation, 20 percent from interactions with others, and 10 percent from formal educational events.

By eliminating judgment, experiential learning creates a safe place infused with purposeful engagements. With learners finding it easy to connect the content to the real world, they are better able to fully immerse themselves in the learning experience. By offering real-world experiences and assignments to participants, experiential learning activities promote the efficacy of learning.