Many children learn through experiential learning like when Mom says “no running inside the house,” and the child does anyway a knocks over Mom’s favorite vase. Mom can say “no running inside the house” until she turns blue, but the child will not understand why he or she should not run inside the house until something like this happens. After the incident, the child has the opportunity to observe the consequences of his or her actions, think about what caused it, and plan for future indoor games that do not include running. As children, we all have these experiences, but once we are adults, we have few opportunities to truly learn through experience.
Experiential learning is not just for children. Learning through experience and reflecting on those experiences can lead to deeper understanding, retention, and autonomy. David A. Kolb developed the model for experiential learning, and it includes four parts: concrete experience, observation and reflection, forming abstract concepts, and testing in a new situation. This model can be incorporated into organizational training to enhance employee engagement.
The real experience in a training course can be a live example, on the job training, or a case-study. In each of these situations, the learner is immersed in the experience of what they will be doing. For example, a learner in a customer service skills course listens to a recorded phone call of an angry customer as an example. The customer service agent in the example call is unable to successfully defuse the customer’s anger and provide him with a proper solution. The call is escalated to management, where the customer is then answered.
Observation and Reflection
Observation and reflection can come naturally from self-directed learners. Some learners will need a little nudge. A trainer can ask probing questions to get the learner to internalize the situation and begin to come up with his or her solutions.
In our example, the learner has an opportunity to reflect on the phone call she just heard. She realizes that the agent was very focused on selling the customer service when he was distraught with his current service. She realizes that the caller’s concerns and frustrations were not validated.
Forming Abstract Concepts
During this phase, learners begin to research or formulate new ways to address the initial problem. This is the thinking phase when the learner starts to synthesize everything they have learned based on their experience and what they have observed. For example, the learner in the customer service course will begin to formulate dialogue that would have addressed the caller’s concerns. She may also turn to supervisors or managers and ask them how they would have treated the situation.
Testing in a New Situation
When the learner is faced with a similar situation, they can use the skills they have learned to navigate the experience. This phase is when learners have the opportunity to exercise the plan they came up with during the previous phase. For example, the customer service agent we have been following is now faced with her irate caller. Instead of continuing to sell a product as the agent in the example call did, she decided to switch gears and use the script she came up with in training. She confirms that she understands the issue, sympathizes with the caller, and proceeds to rectify the problem. If the problem is not able to be resolved, now the learner has a new experience from which she can grow and begin the cycle over again.
Experiential learning can be applied to any training scenario, especially if it is on the job training. In online training, experiential learning can be achieved much like in this example by using recordings of actual workplace experiences, case-studies, simulations, and social learning. Check out Trakstar Learn for your training needs. Request a demonstration of the Learn platform.