While there are two basic approaches to learning — witnessing and hands-on – the latter of the two often proves more effective in the workplace. In fact, obtaining skills and knowledge through practicing applicable activities, rather than simply learning through lectures or the written word often helps the learner retain the necessary information to successfully repeat the task in the future. This process is frequently referred to as experiential learning.
How is Experiential Learning Applied in the Workplace?
In simple terms, experiential learning is basically “learning by doing”, and occurs when practices are supported by interaction, participation, feedback, and analysis. According to Ian Cornett, Executive Vice President of the performance training firm, Eagle’s Flight, research has shown that knowledge and information is more effectively retained via experiential learning. Cornett states, “By piquing their interest in learning, employees are more encouraged to expand their skills and improve overall performance”. He also explains three strategies that can help facilitate effectual experiential learning within an organization:
The concept of role-switching can help individuals empathize with others, while shifting perspectives and attitudes; and is a vital factor in experiential learning. During the process of role-playing, those participating are often encouraged to act within stressful situations and environments, and even in front of their peers. The practice simulates a sort of psychological “exposure therapy” which better prepares workers to handle real-life challenges in the workplace. Furthermore, peers are encouraged to embrace the opportunity to offer constructive and honest feedback during the role-playing encounter.
2. Group Training Events
The concept of “learning by doing” continues to remain the common thread when it comes to group training events. Cornett adds, “While similar to role-playing, group training events can further entrench learning through an interactive game. In fact, many participants don’t even realize they’re learning new skills”. What’s important is that team leaders choose a training program that directly correlates with the needs of the organization; for example, improving customer service, productivity issues, communication, etc.
Companies should always ensure that their employees are familiar with roles beyond their own within the organization. This concept helps team members increase their chances of promotion, as well as gaining a better understanding of the purpose and importance of their current positions. According to Cornett, employees benefit from cross-training by being “exposed to new areas of the company, broadening their skills sets, gaining insight into the bigger picture, and interacting with peers [with whom] they might not have typically [engaged]”.
When an organization is dedicated to fully implementing all aspects of experiential learning, they increase their chances of garnering the many benefits of its theory, such as higher employee engagement, job satisfaction, productivity, as well as longer employee-retention.
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