Experiential learning is the process of learning by reflecting on an experience, forming abstract concepts from it, and then testing those concepts by putting them to action. According to American educational theorist, Professor David Kolb, “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.” Breaking away from the starkly different conventional learning methods, Kolb published a study in 1984 based on his research on learning styles. His theory involves four steps that begins with i) a concrete experience, followed by ii) observing and reflecting on the experience, which then leads to iii) the formation of abstract concepts, which are then iv) put to test in future situations.
Experiential learning has been found to be quite effective at workplace. It leads to a more concrete form of learning, which facilitates better retention in comparison to traditional classroom training sessions conducted by trainers. Modern workplaces are seeing a rise in the adoption of this learning technique. Here are a few ways in which professionals can use experiential learning to achieve their workplace goals.
Bridge the gap between theory and practice
By focusing on the importance of and relying on “learning by doing”, experiential learning allows professionals to get a first-hand experience of practicing what has been taught. Where conventional trainings often fall short in bridging the gap between the theories taught in classrooms versus their actual implementation in our day-to-day work lives, experiential learning helps professionals to step back, reflect, and consciously decide how to apply the newly experienced insights and skills to work. Since experiential learning involves a mix of creative thinking, problem-solving and decision-making, it accelerates the learning process and allows greater retention, ultimately helping you get closer to achieving goals.
Provides a safe environment to learn
While making mistakes at work on a real project can have dangerous consequences on one’s career, experiential learning provides professionals with a safe environment where mistakes are not only acceptable, but even encouraged to help increase learning through errors committed. Since it is a style that involves a trial by error method, different experiences can be experimented with and the resulting mistakes, if any, will only help you refine your observations. Professionals can discover multiple approaches to doing the same thing but with varying results. The safe environment accorded to them allows them to discard the methods that do not work and opt for the ones that give them the best results. They can then apply the best working approach at work too.
Experiential learning often involves working in groups, just like one would at the workplace. The focus on collaboration and teamwork in this method of learning helps increase engagement levels between professionals. Since most professionals do not work in silos, and have to work with colleagues and teammates to achieve results, experiential learning prepares them to work with different kinds of people and in different situations. Everyone involved gets to learn from each other’s mistakes as well as successes. The resulting camaraderie, so to speak, is then visible at the workplace as well.
Enables customized learning
Different people have different learning needs, just like different people have different goals to achieve. The reason why many classroom trainings often fall short in their objective is because the learning is standard for everyone in the room, irrespective of their actual needs. Experiential learning, on the other hand, allows professionals to learn at their own pace and learn from a particular experience that is relevant to them. Since each person gets to make their observation of the experience and derive abstract concepts out of it, it becomes more personalized for them. For example, if there are employees who need to get better at working in teams, in an experiential learning program, the organization can put them through various scenarios that require contribution as a team. In the same set, if there are people who need to develop leadership skills, their tasks could involve making them go through leadership level roles and responsibilities to help them understand the complexities they are likely to face at work.
It goes without saying that experiential learning is the future of learning. It guarantees a workforce that is motivated and believes in its ability to achieve its goals, provided it is linked to the real world and has relevance in workplace context.
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