I belong to a generation that has been taught things in a rather academic way – a lot of theory, tons of bibliography and numerous essays.
Experimentation was confined to the Chemistry or Physics laboratories and even there nothing truly spectacular happened – for example, we were all fascinated by the fact that if you melt salt in water and then put some colored string in it and wait a few weeks you’ll end up with different shape crystals. That was the hoot of our eighth grade. And upper education went pretty much in the same way because I chose to go down a humanities path.
So when I eventually ended up in a corporate environment and was confronted with my first ‘experiential’ training I felt terribly out of my comfort zone. How was I supposed to know how to solve a problem without previously reading at least a dozen pages about it?
Experiential learning explained
The simple answer is that I wasn’t expected to know how to solve that particular problem but I was supposed to learn. The theory of experiential learning, developed by Professor David A. Kolb back in 1984 claimed that ‘Knowledge results from the combination of grasping experience and transforming it.’
The researcher found that there actually are four stages to it:
- Concrete experience – this is the beginning of the cycle and it usually consists of a task (individual or team-based) that needs to be completed to the best of the participants’ knowledge and abilities;
- Reflective observation – this stage is about reflecting on what has been experienced; questions and opinions from all those involved are used to move the learning along;
- Abstract conceptualization – this is the step that I, like many others, have for a long time considered the start of learning; in the experiential version, however, it is by making sense of what has happened, comparing and using previous knowledge that one comes to abstract conclusions;
- Active experimentation – the last step of the process is to put into practice what has been learned. It closes the circle by returning to experimentation, this time with a much better grasp of how the challenges should be tackled.
Benefits of experiential learning in the workplace
There are numerous benefits to experiential learning, especially in today’s fast-paced business environment. Young employees are accustomed to learning this way and need to see immediate applicability of all new information.
More points in favor of this type of learning are:
- It efficiently defeats the forgetting curve because once something is actually lived the brain stores it for later reference.
- It is a great bridge for that pestering learning-doing gap that managers often complain about.
- It increases a sense of empowerment and engagement among employees as they feel motivated to solve tasks and acquire new skills.
- It is personalized and can happen any time due to modern technology.
- It leads to more lasting behavioral change than any other type of L&D intervention.
- It is fun because it easily employs gamification elements.
Modern tech and experiential learning
It’s a well-known fact that technology makes almost anything better and easier. It helps people be more efficient, remember things, stay healthier, meet the right partners and make lucrative investments.
When it comes to experiential learning, technology makes the whole thing bigger, better and more engaging.
First of all, the use of mobile devices allows for people to experiment learning at their own convenience, all the while having access to the necessary resources and the possibility of connecting with others.
The developments in AR and VR make it easy for learners to get immersed into realistic environments and test their skills. An added bonus is that these environments allow for valuable data collection that, in turn, helps L&D specialists find out what areas need improvement and offer personalized feedback.
Experiential sensitivity training
One of the greatest challenges in today’s corporate world is to have well-functioning virtual teams that are often made up of people coming from very different cultures and backgrounds.
While everybody has some idea about what it means to be ‘sensitive’ and ‘inclusive’, it proves rather difficult when it comes to actual interaction. Carrying out this sort of learning experience in a virtual environment allows for people to truly understand diversity and even feel safe to figure out what is the right way to communicate without feeling anxious about all the unknown ‘faux-pas’.
Read more: The DOs of training virtual global teams
The ultimate objective of sensitivity training is to help people in mixed teams become more self-aware by helping them to better understand and interpret their colleagues’ reactions and behavior.
All in all
Changing employee behavior is an ongoing necessity as demands across all industries change constantly. Bringing experiential learning into the organization can only be beneficial to all concerned – the staff will have an easier (and more fun) time while they learn and customers will benefit from the interaction with well-instructed, engaged representatives of the business.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.