Experiential Learning is the best way to learn at work

One of the most valued attributes an employee can bring to the workplace is their experience.  In a fast-changing world where employees are more likely to move from job to job for several reasons;  sometimes great knowledge and skill are present, but not necessarily experience.  The problem is of course experience takes time and often we are short of that commodity!  If you have great staff but they simply lack experience, or you want to recruit new people and you have a misgiving about an otherwise great CV because experience hasn’t been gained.

What Is Experiential Learning?

Experiential learning is a process through which individuals acquire knowledge, skills, and values from direct experiences beyond the traditional academic classroom setting. It emphasizes active engagement in real-world situations, allowing learners to apply theoretical knowledge to practical challenges. This approach can take various forms, such as internships, fieldwork, workshops, and service learning projects. At its core, experiential learning involves a cycle of action and reflection, not just passive learning. Students are encouraged to engage in activities where they can observe, experiment, and reflect on their experiences, fostering a deeper understanding of the subject matter. This method values the personal interpretation and contextualization of learning, recognizing that knowledge is constructed, not just absorbed.

Why Is Experiential Learning Important?

Experiential learning is important because it bridges the gap between theory and practice. This approach equips learners with practical skills and real-world insights that are often not attainable through traditional classroom learning alone. It promotes critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills by placing students in authentic situations where they must navigate complex scenarios. This hands-on approach also enhances engagement and motivation, as students find relevance in their learning activities. Furthermore, experiential learning fosters adaptability and flexibility, preparing students for the ever-changing demands of the modern workplace. Encouraging self-directed learning, also helps in developing lifelong learning habits, crucial in a world where continuous learning is essential for personal and professional growth.

What Theory Involves Experiential Learning?

The theory most commonly associated with experiential learning is David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (ELT). Introduced in the 1980s, ELT proposes a four-stage learning cycle: Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation. According to Kolb, effective learning occurs when a person progresses through this cycle. In the first stage, learners engage in a new experience. Then, they reflect on this experience from various perspectives. In the third stage, learners form new ideas or modify existing abstract concepts based on the reflection. Finally, they apply these concepts in new situations, completing the cycle. This theory emphasizes the importance of reflection and personal involvement in learning, advocating for a more holistic approach to education that considers different learning styles and contexts.

Simple Strategies To Accelerate Experiential Learning

There are 3 strategies you can employ to accelerate experience and give your employees a valuable edge.  These are all based on experiential learning techniques:

1. Workplace action learning

Workplace action learning an experiential learning technique used in the UK since the 1940s can be a vastly successful means of developing people and teams.  It is a means of deepening experience and improving performance in short periods.  Conducted in a set or a team of people, members can come from similar types of jobs or roles within an organisation.  Alternatively, members can be from a specific team with a variety of roles.

Drawing on members’ experiences and learning within the workplace:  Action learning is an excellent and powerful way to accelerate experiential learning.  The motto of learning from others’ mistakes and successes is paramount here.  It has a clear system of enquiry and solutions.  Members will present or bring their challenges, problems or questions to the set.  The rest of the set will challenge and bring observation to the issues raised, broadening and developing ideas.  The set will go away and take action on the issue. Further opportunities to report back learning or best practices will be built into the sessions.

2. Project Management/involvement

Involving employees in projects is a great way to accelerate experiential learning,  Opportunities to learn in areas of work outside of their normal job role can help to increase experience in a short space of time.  Depending on their usual job specification, the type of project they might be involved in can be specifically chosen to enhance knowledge, skills and interpersonal skills.

Great project management is about planning, scoping, communication, negotiation and customer/stakeholder involvement to name but a few aspects.

Project membership will bring the employee into contact with people outside of their usual remit.  It will expose them to problems, issues and challenges the day job simply might not give them access to in a short space of time.

3. Job Swap/Shadowing

A job swap or shadowing exercise is a great way to accelerate experiential learning.  Being exposed to the workload and work practices of more experienced colleagues/colleagues with greater responsibilities can help to develop a perception of the challenges these people would face, and how they would respond.   A job shadow would allow the employee to observe. A job swap would allow them to experience a different role for themselves.  Either way, swapping or shadowing will give a greater number of insights which can help accelerate the experience.

benefits of Accelerating Experiential Learning

Helps Employees to Increase Self-Confidence

Accelerating experiential learning significantly boosts self-confidence among employees. By engaging in practical, hands-on tasks, individuals gain a sense of achievement and belief in their capabilities. This confidence is crucial for personal growth and effective workplace performance.

Enhances Teamwork

Experiential learning fosters a collaborative environment, encouraging employees to work better as a team. Through shared experiences and challenges, team members learn to communicate effectively, rely on each other’s strengths, and support one another, leading to a more cohesive team dynamic.

Encourages Responsibility in Problem-Solving

This approach empowers employees to take ownership of problem-solving. By facing real-world problems, they develop a proactive attitude, learning to approach challenges with responsibility and creativity.

Promotes Innovation

Experiential learning is a fertile ground for innovation. Employees learn to think outside the box, as they are not confined to theoretical knowledge but are encouraged to apply creative solutions in practical settings.

Develops Networking and Communication Skills

These learning experiences also serve as an excellent opportunity for employees to develop networking and communication skills. Interacting with diverse groups within and outside the organization enhances their ability to communicate effectively in various contexts.

Transforms Theoretical Thinking into Practical Application

Employees learn to apply theoretical concepts in real-life scenarios, bridging the gap between knowledge and practice. This transformation is crucial for understanding and utilizing theoretical knowledge effectively.

Encourages Working Smarter

Through experiential learning, employees learn the value of working smarter, not just harder. They develop skills in prioritization, efficient problem-solving, and strategic thinking, enhancing productivity.

Provides Structured Support

Accelerated experiential learning offers structured support to employees, guiding them through the learning process with clear objectives and feedback, which is essential for effective learning and development.

Cultivates Disciplined Thinking Skills

This approach helps in developing disciplined thinking skills. Employees learn to approach problems methodically and logically, which is crucial in professional settings.

Establishes a Platform for Work-Based Learning

It creates a platform for meaningful and relevant work-based learning, enabling employees to apply their skills in real-world situations, which enhances the learning experience.

Builds Organizational Coherence

Accelerating experiential learning contributes to organizational coherence. As employees share common experiences and learning pathways, it fosters a unified organizational culture.

Creates a Consistent Approach to Problem-Solving

This method establishes a consistent approach to problem-solving across the organization, leading to more efficient and effective resolution of challenges.

Provides Greater Experience in a Short Time

Employees gain greater experience in a shorter period, fast-tracking their professional development and enhancing their capacity to contribute to the organization.

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