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The benefits of experiential learning in the workplace

SW
Sophia Wichtowska
Nov 7, 2019

In the race to keep up with advancing technology and the shifting requirements of employees in the workplace, traditional learning methods are becoming increasingly obsolete.

In this environment, there is a necessity to look to alternative models of professional learning which are compatible with the changing landscape of work. Experiential learning is one methodology increasing in popularity in the corporate training arena, but has long been known to be an effective approach.  

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In this article, we are going to explore experiential learning and how it can be applied to learning in the workplace to both improve learning outcomes and employee engagement.

What is experiential learning?

Experiential learning is essentially learning by doing, but there are other important steps learners need to take in order for it to be useful. It involves a cyclical process of action, which learners reflect upon and then adjust their actions accordingly based on what happens. This cycle can be described in four parts: 

  1. The learner has concrete experience with the content being taught.
  2. The learner reflects on the experience by comparing it to prior experiences.
  3. Based on experience and reflection, the learner develops new ideas about the content being taught.
  4. The learner acts on her new ideas by experimenting in an experiential setting.

              (Kolb and Frye, 1975)

As new ideas are put into action, a new cycle of experiential learning begins. 

While they are similar, experiential learning is not exactly the same as learning on the job or an apprenticeship. Thinking critically is an important part of the process, as well as reflecting on how to improve upon current practice. This isn’t necessarily a focus of practical training.

In the workplace, an example of experiential learning might involve an employee with a position of responsibility shadowing a more senior manager for one week in order to learn more about leadership. By taking part in the process, the employee would have gained new skills, but they won’t have engaged in experiential learning. 

In order for this to happen, the employee would need to take the time to reflect on the experience, and to compare what they have observed through shadowing to their own management style. After this, the employee would return to their position with a fresh perspective and understanding on how to approach their role. 

This approach can be applied to learning in a range of different topics or skill areas, and is proven to be an engaging way for learners to gain knowledge

How to engage employees in experiential learning

When experiential learning has such an impact on learner engagement, it makes sense for organisations to try and implement the strategy across their learning and development processes. Through experience, learners can also apply what they have learnt in a more timely manner, to real-life scenarios as they appear.

While the benefits of experiential learning are clear, it can be difficult to integrate into an online learning course, when the majority are conducted either at a desk or using a smartphone. The following points summarise the ways in which opportunities for experiential learning can be incorporated into the online learning process, using either online learning tools or blended methods: 

Virtual reality (VR)

A key advantage of VR is that it offers participants an experiential learning opportunity, which creates stronger memories through employing multiple senses and emotional connections.

VR brings and experiential element to online learning that is difficult to create with videos and articles alone. Repetitive learning or memorisation has long been out of favour in schools, with ‘learning by doing’ being the preferred option. Experiential Learning methodology encourages critical thinking, problem solving and decision making, and this accelerates learning.

It also bridges the gap between theory and practice, and gives employees an opportunity first-hand to apply what has been taught. This improves retention of concepts and new ideas. 

Build in practical activities away from the desk

Online courses can serve as a basis for workplace learning, which learning and development professionals can then leverage to create a blended learning experience.  

To explain this, let’s return to the example above. If an employee is about to take on more responsibility in a more senior management position, they might need to take an online refresher course on management and think about which techniques work best for them. This could be accompanied by the opportunity to shadow a colleague with management experience in a more senior position. 

This combination of learning experiences can help the employee to gain a broad range of knowledge which they can immediately apply in their new position.

Use storytelling 

Practical stories help to put learning in context, and are particularly important for workplace training. One of the main goals of learning in the workplace is for the participants to be able to apply their knowledge in a practical context.  Acknowledging this during the learning process makes the transition from online to real-life scenarios much easier. 

Stories also give learners a familiar context to work with. This forms a great basis for gaining new knowledge and information, as they can make connections between new information and situations they already understand.

Incorporate a review process for learners to reflect on how they have applied their learning

While many online learning courses will have built-in activities to help learners think critically and reflectively, it can be helpful to extend this process beyond the course. 

After learners complete the online training, they could complete a reflection activity over the following month which asks them key questions about their learning experience and how they have been able to apply new skills or ways of thinking to their role. This process could be individual or collaborative, perhaps involving a short meeting to discuss how the group has been able to apply their learning. 

With GO1’s collection of different content providers, you will find training formats vary from bite-sized animated videos to short courses with multiple modules. Diversity in learning resources caters best to all learning styles. Choice promotes learning opportunities and activates user engagement in professional development training.

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