The following blog serves as a guide on everything you need to know about experiential learning: from its origins, to how it is used and the benefits it serves to building leadership, commercial and innovation capabilities in the business.
What is experiential learning?
Experiential Learning, simply put, is learning by doing. It allows participants to develop and acquire new skills in a safe environment that reflects real-world situations in an ultra-compressed timeframe. Participants can experience years of market activities in a matter of days or even hours.
Experiential learning has a long tradition that can be traced back to ancient civilizations, including Chinese, Greek and Egyptian societies. Closer to our time, psychologists have been using child development as one of the greatest examples of experiential learning: the ability to learn by exploring, making mistakes, experimenting, and learning, all by oneself.
The theory was made popular in an educational and business context by theorist David A.Kolb, who, along with John Fry, developed the experiential learning theory, which is based on the idea that learning is a process whereby knowledge is created through transformation of experience. It is based on four main elements which operate in a continuous cycle during the learning experience:
• Concrete experience
• Reflective observation
• Abstract conceptualization
• Active experimentation
This framework has been widely applied, extended and criticized. Today, there is a general recognition that these four aspects are the pillars of experiential learning, although they are not necessarily followed systematically and sequentially, but rather in an interactive and iterative fashion.
The state of experiential learning and how it is evolving.
Experiential learning is entering a new era that is driven by new technologies, modalities and ways of working. It’s becoming less time-bound as users can learn and progress at a pace of their choosing.
It is also becoming more individualized. Managers often go through exercises on their own or in a non-linear team working environment.
New technologies (apps, social media, video conferencing, etc.) will continue to play a key role in enhancing the experiential learning experience. Experiential learning providers must adapt to fit these new technologies and ways of collaborating to provide the best remote, residential or blended learning experience.
Team exercises will become even more virtual and remote. The typical “classroom” settings and “nine to five” working hours are both becoming a relic of the past.
Why use experiential learning?
Mirroring real-world decision-making experiences in a competitive environment, experiential learning helps to create emotionally-charged environments, leading to results. It engages participants on a higher level and embeds real and lasting results due to the fact that they are experiencing concepts and challenges that they wouldn’t otherwise encounter through traditional learning methods.
A proven framework
Studies have shown that lessons learned by effective managers are usually driven by the following 70:20:10 model*:
This framework has been widely applied, extended and criticized. Today however, there is a general recognition that these three aspects are the pillars of experiential learning, although they are not necessarily followed systematically and sequentially, but rather in an interactive and iterative fashion.
The richness of simulated exercises allows participants to experience and learn in a few days what they would have otherwise learned in a few years.
While most management development courses only contribute to the bottom 10%, experiential learning programs focus on providing realistic, risk-free competitive environments where participants learn through experience (the 70%) while also working in cross-functional and cross-market teams (the 20%).
The result of this approach is that participants will learn through a much broader experience, resulting in much longer-lasting changes in knowledge and behaviour.
What are the benefits of experiential learning?
Risk-Free, Real-World Application
The participant personally experiences concepts “hands on” in a controlled, risk-free environment in which mistakes are not only allowed, but encouraged as part of the learning process. Participants combine their experiences in the learning environment with abstract concepts in order to reflect on the outcome. By analyzing the impact of their actions on results, they can understand how key concepts can be applied to real-life circumstances.
When designed, developed, and delivered properly, experiential learning can engage and motivate participants more compellingly than other forms of learning. Through the process and the results of their activities, participants see the value in what they are learning more clearly.
Participants from different backgrounds with different levels of experience can both teach and learn from each other. In addition to concepts, participants develop skills more effectively together.
Participants can seek their own solutions to challenges put before them and adapt to changing circumstances.
It’s engaging, challenging, memorable and fun. It tickles the brain in a way that traditional training does not. In this day and age, it’s nearly impossible to capture the attention of managers and executives for more than twenty minutes. In our engagements, we actually struggle to pull them away from the experiences we create, sometime for hours at a time. With all the distractions and a constant bombardment of emails and texts, this is absolutely priceless.
Where is experiential learning applied?
Experiential learning using business simulations is uniquely suited to address several key leadership skills, sometimes called hard skills.
Experiential learning lends itself to many contexts but our main focus is the following:
Achieving alignment across the organization in terms of culture and skills capabilities. This works best in times of change, market disruptions, taking on new opportunities and confronting new challenges.
Our experiences help build stronger managers and instill a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship. Executives and managers are tested to make sound fact-based business decisions under extreme time pressure. This requires excellence in building, and ultimately in implementing a customer-centric strategy with a specific budget and clear objectives.
In essence, we simulate the real-world and provide years of experience in just days.
In order to improve strategic thinking, our experiential learning approach can build effective leadership talent and skills. Additionally, it can deepen managers’ business acumen and teach them to strategically manage diverse portfolios.
Marketing & Customer Centricity:
With a focus on customer insights and value creation, our experiential learning approach challenges participants to build and shape new customer offerings to boost value and compete in the marketplace.
By using methodologies such as the Blue Ocean Strategy, our experiential learning approach challenges participants to build an uncontested market space and reach beyond the competition while spreading a culture of strategic innovation.
How can we approach the experiential learning method?
We use a four-step approach to experiential learning.
Evaluate the competencies required, the readiness of teams implicated, the needs of the company and individuals.
Define the objectives, content and structure of the learning program.
Deliver the program in three stages. Learn in the first stage by changing the knowledge of participants. Experience in the second stage, by changing the behavior of participants. Apply in the third stage, by changing the actions of participants.
Measure the impact immediately after the program and re-evaluate and measure in the long-term.
Our delivery approaches are flexible and customized. At the beginning of the journey, StratX ExL consultants will work with teams involved to understand objectives, analyze needs and craft a solution that incorporates the appropriate mixture of both face-to-face and remote learning. Find out how we measure experiential learning impact by downloading our guide today.
Experiential Learning Case Study
We have worked with leaders in 70 countries, among them 40 Fortune Global 500. Below is a selected highlight from over the years. Download the Experiential Learning Users Guide for more success stories.
Case Study: Leadership Development for Growth
Improve the mindset and skills of senior managers and commercial leaders, to deliver challenging growth objectives.
StratX ExL designed and co-delivered management and advanced commercial management programs to their executives in their world-renowned campus and in other locations around the world.
- A renewed contribution to many change initiatives to boost market performance
- Alignment of skills and knowledge across a global and multifunctional audience
- High levels of satisfaction represented by feedback from over 3,000 Senior Leaders
- Through their relentless commitment to leadership development, the client achieved impressive organic growth, delivering substantial additional revenues every year
Experiential learning best practices and more….
While this blog serves as a great starter in everything you need to know about experiential learning, our Experiential Learning User’s Guide provides the practical tips needed in creating impactful experiential learning. Download our guide to:
- Understand how experiential learning can be measured
- Receive the essential experiential learning best practices
- Discover even more success stories