Unlocking the power of experiential learning to maximize impact

Unlocking the power of experiential learning

Think back over the last week – were there specific times when you had an experiential learning opportunity? Was the learning impactful? What did you gain from it?

Experiential learning offers a departure from conventional learning approaches and more passive eLearning. With experiential learning, the learner takes center stage, actively engaging with and experiencing the learning firsthand.

According to David A. Kolb (1984), “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience”. His experiential learning theory can be used to frame approaches for designing experiential learning. It illustrates why some experiences bring deeper learning compared to others. 

To evaluate the level of learning that is supported in a learner experience, here are some questions to ask:

  • Does the learning include concrete personal experiences to engage with?
  • Is there space built into the learning for reflection on that experience, and is it timely?
  • How are you helping learners conceptualize the learning and make sense of it?
  • Are there opportunities to practice and experiment with what has been learned?


An integrated experiential learning process

Kolb’s learning process presents a perspective on experiential learning that emphasizes its integrated nature. According to his model, learning unfolds as a cohesive process, where each stage seamlessly supports and contributes to the subsequent one. Notably, learners have the flexibility to commence this cycle at any stage, progressing through its logical sequence.

Effectiveness of complete cycle execution

The essence of effective learning lies in the ability to navigate all four stages of the model. Significantly, no single stage within the cycle is effective as a standalone learning method. Instead, it is the complete execution of all stages that fosters optimal learning outcomes.

While each stage plays a crucial role in the learning process, true efficacy emerges when learners navigate through all four stages. The complete execution of the cycle fosters a holistic learning experience, ensuring a well-rounded comprehension and an ability to apply skills.

As learners traverse the experiential learning cycle, they construct increasingly complex and abstract 'mental models'. These mental models represent the learner's evolving understanding of the material, providing a solid foundation for future learning and application.

Experiential learning at scale

ETU training simulations embody these four stages of learning to deliver a high-impact learning experience:

  • For concrete experiences, learners are immersed in realistic workplace scenarios where they practice their skills in moments that matter. 
  • In ETU simulations, the learner is given a first-person perspective and is presented with choices on what to say or do in given situations. By reflecting and deciding how to respond, learners direct the scenario. 
  • A coach character assists sense-making by providing in-the-moment feedback. At the end of a simulation, the learner gets feedback underlining the impact of their choices and highlighting best practices.
  • Learners are actively encouraged to practice their skills. They can retake a simulation and experiment with alternative choices, and learn from the outcomes.

The skills assessment data captured in ETU simulations provides both the learner and stakeholders with insights on skill strengths and gaps. At ETU, we believe in the transformative potential of experiential learning, and we invite you to see for yourself how we can support more effective learning by trying one of our sample simulations.

Reference: Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Jackie-Brown-ETUJackie Brown, Director of Enterprise Learning

Jackie has deep expertise in the learning & development space grounded in over 20 years of practice. Architect of award-winning programs across various industry sectors, she holds a Masters in Educational Practice. Her blend of Organizational Development expertise with emergent learning tech supports organizations to cultivate skills organizations that deliver.


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