The Benefits of Experiential Learning and How to Create Realistic Training

Experiential learning may sound like something straight from an introductory philosophy class, but in reality it’s a concept that can be extremely valuable for training managers. Businesses are often asking themselves why their training and development isn’t resonating with employees. A common answer to that question lies in how realistic the learning feels to employees.

What is Experiential Learning?

One problem with many e-Learning corporate training programs is there may be knowledge transfer, but not experience.

It’s easy to present technical information to employees, but how do you get them to really understand how to apply that knowledge to their jobs?

Until you can make that connection, training and development are going to produce lackluster results at best.

In the past, corporate training was all about providing knowledge, but not demonstrating to employees how that knowledge would translate to the real world. Old forms of training also often failed to show not just how knowledge could be applied, but how it could benefit the learner.

In a nutshell, experiential learning is what happens when a training manager or course developer is able to build that bridge of connection between knowledge and application.

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How is Experiential Learning Beneficial?

There are so many reasons providing an experience-rich learning environment is going to be beneficial, but here are five primary advantages:

  • Employees are going to learn more quickly when there’s an experiential e-Learning module. Training managers often become frustrated with the feeling employees are never going to really grasp the content. That may be true when they’re only attempting to transfer knowledge, but once an experience-centric element is added to learning, that’s going to change quickly.
  • Do you hear groans and signs any time training or development is mentioned? Experience learning is an excellent way to get the grumbling to stop. Employees are likely to be more excited and engaged in the learning process when it’s experiential. Not only is this type of learning interactive, but it’s also a way for them to see actual value in the learning process. When employees are presented with an LMS module that demonstrates real value to them in their jobs and their daily lives, it’s much easier to get them excited about the training process.
  • Experience learning is going to kick the critical thinking skills of your employees into gear. Rather than thoughtlessly sitting and memorizing concepts, when there are experience elements added to e-Learning employees are going to find opportunities to build their own connections to the content. Employees will be able to take a situation, analyze it and then create their own solutions to a problem. This sense of critical thinking is a great way to improve knowledge transfer and retention of information, but it’s also a valuable way to empower employees to make good decisions outside of the training process.
  • When experience is worked into the training process, there’s an opportunity for employees to fail, but in a safe way. This can be particularly advantageous for employees who work in high-risk situations, such as with machinery, or in the medical industry. Employees can explore their options and take risks in the training process without the fear of negative consequences.
  • The fifth advantage of experiential e-Learning? It’s good for business. If you’re working to make a business case for training and developing employees look to the return on investment you’ll see with this style of learning. When learning is rich in experience elements, employees are going to learn more quickly and more thoroughly, saving your organization time and money while you still see better results from training.

Making e-Learning Experiential

e-Learning and the use of a learning management system simplify the introduction of experiential training.

When you’re creating content that aims to provide experience-based learning, consider the following design tips:

  • Add a story. A story is something we discussed in our recent post about scenarios. Stories are an incredibly valuable and simple tool to add to e-Learning. When you create a story based on a real world situation employees are likely to face, the result is that it elicits an emotional connection between the learner and training. An emotional response heightens the learning experience. Creating a story doesn’t have to be complicated—look to real life case studies or situations you’ve known employees to face on the job. Provide enough background that employees can feel engaged in the story and feel connected to the characters and the situation. At the same time, don’t include so many extraneous details that it’s challenging for learners to follow what’s happening.
  • Incorporate problem-solving. Employees are always being asked to solve problems on the job, whether or not they even realize it. Add problem-solving to training to elicit critical thinking and pull learners in. Choose from issues that you’ve heard your employees discuss. For the most impact, choose problems that don’t have definitive right or wrong answers or a clear solution. Look for problems that tend to be grayer so that employees are required to think deeply about what they would do. Problem-solving exercises don’t necessarily even need to have a right answer to be valuable in training—it may be more about the steps taken to come to a particular conclusion or result.

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  • Use imagery that’s indicative of your actual employees and their work environment. There’s no need to go to outside actors or settings to create pictures or videos for e-Learning training. The more learners can relate, the more effective training will be. With that in mind, when you’re creating videos and taking images, use the real workplace and their coworkers if possible. This will allow your employees to feel that much more connected to training. If your employees deal with customers on a regular basis, you may consider adding some real customer interviews into training. For example, if you’re training for customer service, interview regular customers on their experiences with your organization, as well as what they do and don’t want to see as customers.
  • Before you begin developing experiential e-Learning, get to know the authentic experiences of your employees. Spend time in their environment as they’re working, interview them and hold focus groups to give you a feel for what the real world is for them. It may be different than what you believe or perceive.

Let us know your thoughts on experiential learning—do you try to create training that’s in-line with the actual experiences of your employees? If so, what’s the impact of training employees in this way?

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