Experiential Learning in the Workplace

As the second in a three-part series about experiential learning we will look the effectiveness of this learning modality and explore the benefits in greater detail.

Learning by doing is innate to human nature, which suggests that it may well be the most effective way to learn. For example, think of infants and young children. They don’t learn by sitting through parental lectures, they learn through their own senses and experiences. They use their bodies to make discoveries and draw conclusions about cause and effect (Zero to Three).

Aristotle, the father of western logic, famously said, “For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” (eLearning Industry). Tradesmen, artisans, and professionals over the centuries have understood this logic, which is why apprenticeships, rather than formal education, were the route to entering the workforce in most cases.

In the 19th century, with the advent of the industrial era, apprenticeships fell out of favor because machines started doing the work formerly done by people. However, and perhaps paradoxically, as technology has expanded, the need for skilled workers has actually increased, so apprenticeships are making a resurgence in the modern landscape, although the terminology more commonly used today is “internships” (Bizcatalyst 360).

On-the-job training (a.k.a., experiential learning) is a great way for companies to bridge the gap between recent college graduates and experienced employees.  It also can also help candidates to get a foot in the door of their chosen industry or learn a vocation without assuming the burden of heavy student loan debt (Bizcatalyst 360).      

According to Academia, experiential learning is the most effective learning method for the following reasons:

  • It creates real-world experiences – Experiential learning translates data and concepts into hands-on tasks that yield relevant, actionable outcomes.
  • It promotes critical thinking and creativity – Experiential learning requires learners to think critically and find creative solutions to real problems.
  • It accelerates learning – Applying real-world solutions develops decision-making skills, improves retention of the learned information, and has a far reaching and long lasting effect, much greater than theoretical learning.
  • It integrates theory and practice – You can understand the mechanics of swimming by reading a book about it, but you won’t know how to swim until you apply the concepts you’ve learned. Experiential learning provides both the concepts and the practice.
  • It provides opportunities for trial and error – Experiential learners are expected to make mistakes. They learn not to fear their errors, but to find better procedures and solutions by learning from them.  As Michael Jordan states, “I’ve missed more the 9,000 shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost 300 games.  Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and I missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that’s why I succeed.”  You can’t learn without errors and failures.  You learn more from failure than from your successes.
  • It is future-focused – Experiential learning activities encourage students to look forward to, and prepare for their future. Through their learning experiences, they discover their “interests, skills, aptitudes, and passions” (Academia), become self-aware, and forge a clear path forward to achieving their goals.

In the next article we will look at the different forms experiential learning can take, specifically in terms of its virtual learning possibilities.