Experiential Learning: the innovative and sustainable way to change behaviour

Experiential Learning: the innovative and sustainable way to change behaviour

We have to admit that classroom learning and training alone might not work anymore in the context of the modern business organisation. I’m not saying that they are not effective; instead, I’d say the results are not sustainable enough. What are the reasons? Here are some of the examples.

Reason 1: When training is held with no particular reason — it doesn’t relate to performance enhancement or the actual work or strategic objectives of the organisation but simply happens just because someone felt like doing it — that training session will eventually fail to deliver the results.

Reason 2: People may resent having to attend training because of lack of communication: They don’t understand why they are there, they don’t see the reason to get involved — not to mention the work that’s piling up back in the office, which will require them to work even harder when they get back.

Reason 3: There is no such thing and there should be no such thing as one-size-fits-all training. I know that most companies want to streamline their training budgets and spend selectively; thus, most of the time the training sessions follow the same pattern: herding a bunch of people into a big room, having someone stand up front and tell them what they have to do, with a lot of motivational language in PowerPoint-based presentations. The result, however, is very disappointing: boredom or discouragement with little to no efficiency improvement.

Reason 4: Training becomes pointless when people are barely held responsible for using what they have learned when they get back to the workplace; when there is no follow-up process; when there is no support for the new skills and behaviour back in the workplace. We all know that old habits die hard and application of training is difficult if there is no incentive to implement and sustain changes in behaviours; thus, it is gradually forgotten.

Simply put, most of what you’ve learned in classes will bear no results, nor will it lead to sustainable change, unless participants feel engaged in the session, understand the reason they are there, and feel it is related or linked to real working situations.

But don’t give up hope. Today I’d like to talk about one solution that can be used to sustain changes from learning or training sessions — experiential learning.

Experiential learning, as the name suggests, is the process of learning through experience, and is more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing”.

According to David A Kolb, the developer of the Experiential Learning Model or Kolb’s Model, experiential learning starts from “Act” — having a concrete experience through well-designed activities, simulations or a real situation.

Then, learners “reflect” on what they have done. Reflection is a crucial part of the experiential learning process as it will create self-awareness and enhance the belief and willingness to change.

It is safe to say that facilitation of experiential learning and reflection is challenging, but a skilled facilitator, asking the right questions and guiding reflective conversation before, during and after an experience, can help open a gateway to powerful new thinking and learning.

“Conceptualise” is the third step, using analytical skills to conceptualise the experience. Then, the experiential learning ends with “Apply”, the process by which participants use decision-making and problem-solving skills in order to apply the new ideas gained from the experience to their real-life work situation.

It should be noted that experiential learning can be used at different stages of development. You can use it at the very beginning of the learning programme to create awareness and buy-in from the participants about topics related to their development, and to engage all stakeholders — bosses, peers, subordinates, or even customers — with their development programs.

When used as a final developmental session, it will allow the participants to apply the knowledge and skills they have learned through the well-designed learning experience.

For example, here at APMGroup we have several experiential learning programmes such as “On Thin Ice”, “The Chocolate Factory”, “Chemistry” and “Journey to a New Land”. The titles reflect dramatic themes that simulate real working situations with the purpose of re-creating the actual experience, resulting in unforgettable and sustainable learning experiences being imprinted on participants.


Arinya Talerngsri is Group Managing Director at APMGroup, Thailand's leading Organisation and People Development Consultancy. She can be reached by e-mail at arinya_t@apm.co.th or https://www.linkedin.com/pub/arinya-talerngsri/a/81a/53b

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