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Wednesday, 31 January 2018 17:01

'Experiential learning' how to harness its potency in a digital world

The proliferation of digital platforms, tools and resources has led many people to suggest that ‘we now learn in different ways’. At the risk of sounding pedantic, humans are not ‘learning in different ways’ they are simply using different resources to support their learning!

As a child of the 60’s I remember being told to ‘get your head out of that book’, I now find myself telling my own kids to ‘get off their smartphones’. Is reading a book so different to reading a blog post on a smartphone? Equally, my sister spent ‘hours’ on the phone talking with her friends after school, is that so different to the behavior of the current ‘WhatsApp’ generation?

We use a proliferation of means to support our learning and if you measure ‘complete learning’ by actioned behavior, rather than simply by what people ‘know’, then the range of learning stimuli required increases. How many of us know things, but fail to act on them? The process of ‘learning’ is stimulated by experiences, not just knowledge. We reflect on these experiences, construct a new viewpoint and act on that viewpoint, if our new actions do not deliver what we want, then we work through the stages again, adopt a new viewpoint and try again. No doubt we can also identify with ‘misguided learning’, such as repeating the same action and expecting a different result!

Organizations have a duty to foster and encourage ‘effective’ learning processes. This is not simply a matter of social responsibility, it is through fostering ‘complete learning’ that behavior changes and it is behavior which generates results. Great lawyers demonstrate this in the courtroom, being able to draw on the relevant laws and available evidence is not enough - articulation, decision-making and judgement will typically determine their ultimate impact. 

Management guru Henry Mintzberg once said, “Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading it”, yet much of what the new digital learning marketplace offers is focussed on content delivery. Even the new themes of social learning, gamification and micro-learning appear to be designed primarily to encourage ‘learners’ to use content that is otherwise under-utilised. Instructional content is a key part of the learning ‘mix’ but on its own, rarely helps learners complete their learning cycle to behavioral change.

Maybe that is why many people would rather ask a colleague than look up an answer on-line. As someone who operates as both a digital and face to face learning practitioner. I continue to see learners of all profiles really engage when opportunities to experiment, explore and test behaviors in an active, experience led environment are offered to them.

Maybe, it is also why ‘face to face’ training is not diminishing in use as fast as some people predicted? (Raconteur 2018). Fundamentally, as learners we regularly want to test a ‘viewpoint’, see what happens and receive feedback but no consequence. This is the part that safe environments such as role-play, a coach and latterly virtual reality can play in the learning journey.

Prosell had a wonderful opportunity a few years ago when we were commissioned to design and create a tool that would host instructional content and facilitate ‘action based’ learning via a digital platform. This, for us, was a ‘dream ticket’; designing a tool that could support ‘complete learning’ by hosting instructional content, ‘experiential activities’ and providing a mechanism for personal feedback, read about it here. We will happily show you our platform and its capabilities, however, this blog series also seeks a higher purpose, to make the case for including ‘action based’ or ‘experiential learning’ in all development initiatives, such that a blend of instructional design and experience design are used to support ‘complete learning’.

Those of you who are familiar with 70-20-10 will recognize how easy it is for organizations to leave much of the 20% (manager coaching and feedback) to chance, or rather to the variance in capability and character of local managers. We advocate using technology to deliver ‘complete learning’ opportunities and then tracking the feedback component to support both the learner and their manager. It is about refining the learning process by incorporating tried and tested methods in a new medium, much like the move from books to blogs!   

We will explore ‘experiential or action-based learning’ options and look at different ways in which organizations are leveraging these for different applications:

  • Change management
  • Onboarding
  • Product/Service Knowledge
  • Development and Performance Management
  • Compliance

‘Experiential learning’ can be facilitated in many ways but it typically refers to providing situations which learners respond to, these can be in either a practice or a real situation.

Experiential learning is designed to help each person gain insight in their own way through introspection and self-directed activities. By learning in the context of their own experience and goals, a person can gain memorable insights to act on, right away. – (Forbes 2017)

We hope you have enjoyed this introduction to a wider discussion about the role of ‘experiential learning’ in the modern learning environment, please stay tuned for the series of blogs to come, we welcome your views on ‘complete learning’, how best to support it and how you use it. Please feel free to join the debate and get in touch.

We hosted a webinar on the use of digitally distributed experiential learning, please click here to view the webinar.


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