A fast read about what it is and why you should use it

  • Experiential learning

Experiential learning creates an environment in which people feel safe and want to learn more. This type of learning is student-centric and takes into consideration the participants’ learning styles. That makes it very efficient for diverse student groups.

After we saw the benefits of experiential learning, we applied it to our training products. Certainly, it proved to be an efficient method and the participants’ feedback has been rewarding.

What is experiential learning?

First of all, let’s see how specialists define it. The following explanation helped us learn if what we do is a good practice of experiential learning. Lewis and Williams said that:

Experiential learning means … learning by doing. Experiential education first immerses learners in an experience and then encourages reflection about the experience to develop new skills, new attitudes, or new ways of thinking.

Based on this definition, we also learned that experiential learning can take many forms, including role-playing, games, simulations, case studies, and group works.

Secondly, let’s see what makes experiential learning different from the traditional one:

Experiential learning theory, as defined by David Kolb

David Kolb is an educational theorist. In his work he focuses a lot on experiential education, and he developed the most known experiential learning theory. 

His theory includes 4 learning styles: active, reflexive, pragmatic and theoretical. These styles are based on four fundamental processes, that participants go through during learning:

a. Emotions – the concrete experience. (Experiencing)
b. Reflective Observation – people think about how the new information will affect different features of their work. (Reflecting)
c. Conceptualisation – learners compare the way the information connects with previous experiences. (Thinking)
d. Active experimentation – people analyse how the current content can provide them with new ways to act. (Acting)

An easy example of experiential education based on the above process is going to the zoo and learning through observation and interaction with the environment. The traditional way would be to read about the animals from a book.

For efficient learning, all stages of the process must be approached

Experiential learning is a bit misunderstood by parts of the teaching community. For example, some companies are naming their trainings as experiential even if they don’t follow the entire cycle. As a result, the learning experience will not have the expected outcomes.

A huge mistake in designing an experiential learning activity is forgetting about the participant experience. Because the first step of the cycle is what initiates the learning. In the example above, it would be like not actually going to the zoo. In that case, you wouldn’t have the experience to reflect and build on. 

Part of our training programs are simulations based on experiential learning. They replicate situations that participants encounter at work, but in different environments. That checks the experiencing  part of the process. In The Deep Sea Odyssey, people are part of a marine exploration team, planning and sharing their resources. Because they are actively organizing as a team, they learn how to be more efficient. Of course, at work, participants are not all marine explorers. Still, the tasks they have to get done as a team replicate those from their day-to-day jobs.

Next, to help participants go through the rest of the process, we do the following:

  • Structure carefully the learning outcomes
  • Organize briefing sessions and give handouts
  • Setup opportunities for reflection
  • Give tasks that makes people apply directly what they’ve learned

What happens in successful experiential learning programs:

To answer the question “why should you use experiential learning?” we chose to tell you, based on our experience, what happens when these types of programs are used in practice:

1. Participants are actively involved

Good narratives create full immersion in the game. They keep participants alert for the whole activity. They also offer clear roles and objectives to be fulfilled.

2. Learning is not based on theory, but experimenting

Henry Mintzberg said that “leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it.” Experiential programs are built around the participants’ experience. This stimulates the learners’ skills to explain a topic from their own perspective and learn in a practical way. In other words, it’s learning by doing.

3. A link between theory and practice is created

Experiential learning includes facilitated discussions. They offer people the chance to think about the situation in which they participated. Then, teams can apply what they learned in their working environment.

4. Adapting is made easy

Experiential programs are usually easy to implement. They can be adapted to types of participants, the available time frame or the venue.

5. They provide space for exploring the subjects without negative results

Experiential education is based on scenarios. So people can experience the effects of their attitudes and choices without the real world consequences. It also makes their brain relaxed so they can assimilate the information easily.

In conclusion, a well-designed experiential program will keep participants active and reflective. It will help them own their learning as independent and self-directed learners.

For further reading, we suggest the article: Eight important things to know about The Experiential Learning Cycle, by Dr Alice Kolb & Professor David Kolb.

At Solver, we design learning experiences based on the experiential learning cycle. We make sure that we follow the whole cycle, as Kolb defined it. To learn more about how we design them, write to us and we’ll gladly share.

Game based learning Instructional design