What exactly is experiential learning?

April 2018

In short, Experiential learning is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as "learning through reflection on doing" and it is built from 4 phases.
Although it seems to have been more of modern phenomen in the world of training, events and conferences, experiential learning has been around since 350 BC, Aristotle wrote in the Nichomachean Ethics "for the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them"

However at the beginning of the 1970’s , David A. Kolb developed the modern theory of experiential learning.

Experiential learning builds on Dale’s Cone theory and the different types of learning available to us. In short we have 5 senses, and experiential learning allows us to engage all of them.

So what does it look like in practise?
You attend a 45 minute training session on customer experience, instead of sitting and listening to a trainer this is how the session could unfold.

#1 Experience

The session starts with a role-play that gets delegates to experience a situation. They may play an employee and have to react to a customer in real-time. In this environment the delegates collect facts; what happened, what did we see?

#2 Reflect

…and pause. Let’s reflect on what happened. The session will move into a discussion around what everyone saw, what worked, what didn’t. Delegates will listen as much as speaking because perspective plays an important role at this stage. Delegates will share their feelings about the situation.

#3 Conceptualise

The delegates have experienced a situation and understood the facts, the session evolves to explore why it happened. Delegates could draw on a wall ‘the why’ of the situation; a great consultancy method is using MECE which helps identify findings of a problem.

#4 Application

Delegates will now be up-skilled on what happened, how it happened and why it happened and naturally will be wanting to improve the situation. This is the best time to educate on new business procedures, new tools to help employees help themselves in the future.

Then the cycle repeats whether that’s in the training sessions or as a cascade post training. It is important that the learning doesn’t end after the session. The business should be encouraging employees to experience the situation with a real customer, reflect on what worked well and what didn’t, understand why it didn’t work well and reach out for additional business support or escalate recurring operational problems.