December 3, 2023

Why experiential learning is the way forward

For many of us, long before training manuals and PowerPoint materials, we learned mainly from what we lived every day: from our experiences.

The 70:20:10 learning model

According to a research-validated guideline, people tend to learn effectively in these proportions:

  • 70% through experience, experimentation and reflection
  • 20% from social interactions and working with others
  • 10% from formal interventions such as classroom training programs

A simple framework for designing experiential learning

So what exactly is “experiential learning”? Simply put, it is a learning process where the student learns by doing. But that doesn’t mean we throw people in the deep end and hope they figure things out. This is not experiential learning; this is just a bad experience! Instead, we need to design learning that helps people get the most out of their experiences. Using Kolb’s experiential learning cycle as a framework, we can divide the experiential learning design for training into four parts:

  1. Specific experience
    The key is to stimulate the learning process by making sure the student experiences something personally. The experience starts a person to discover a specific topic. This is in contrast to an individual engaging with a topic at a distance, such as simply reading or listening.
  2. Reflective observation
    The student takes a magnifying glass to see what he has been through. The question that the individual tries to answer at this stage is not “why” but “what” and “how”. What was going through my head? What was I thinking and feeling? How would it be different from what I experienced before?
  3. Abstract conceptualization
    The student is guided to use logic to reason, explain or draw conclusions about their reasoning. The central question addressed is why is this? Individuals would develop hypotheses, concepts, and even frameworks that they believe could be used in similar situations.
  4. Active experimentation
    The student should then be encouraged to take the next natural step of testing what they have learned. They try to apply their learning to other scenarios and the idea is to get the student to take risks and try to solve problems with what they have learned.

Why experiential learning is the way forward

Using experiential learning for training has a number of advantages:

  • Supports action orientation
    Experiential learning is an active form of learning. There is a lot of work and testing. This is essential in a corporate environment where results and continuous improvement matter much more than ideas. It is also an essential part of innovation management.
  • Adaptability becomes second nature
    Students are constantly revising and receiving feedback through experiential learning. This is exactly the skill needed to solve new and unknown problems where there are no known solutions. With the rapid pace of change brought about by technology, as well as increasing uncertainty in the marketplace, this is an increasingly critical skill for the workplace.
  • Learning retention is better
    Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist who studied memory, found that human beings forget most of what we learn shortly after we first learn it. By engaging students in activities, experiential learning makes learning more engaging and reinforces new knowledge and insights, making students less likely to fall victim to the forgetting curve.

4 examples of how experiential learning can be applied to training

1. Simulation in digital marketing

The world of digital marketing is evolving at breakneck speed and new platforms are mushrooming on the world wide web. Learning to navigate and use these tools can be overwhelming. However, using experiential learning simulations, students can act as marketing managers and experiment with choosing appropriate digital marketing tools and channels in their simulation. Students can then plan their strategies and consider how to manage real-world constraints such as a fixed budget and KPIs. This helps students experiment in a safe environment and build confidence in applying their knowledge in the real world.

2. Scenarios branching in line

Compliance is sometimes seen as boring or simplistic ticking boxes. But in reality, there are many nuances in understanding and following the rules and regulations. More often than not, the right thing to do depends on the specific situation. Using branching scenarios, employees can experience a range of possibilities to help them internalize compliance issues at a more intuitive level. Scenarios may also include options for remedial action in case of non-compliance. Not only does this help employees know how to make good decisions and understand the consequences of their actions, but it also makes for more interesting learning!

3. Role playing in customer service

More than ever, customer orientation is seen as essential to business survival. Applying experiential learning can have an impact by helping to anticipate and meet customer expectations. Various scenarios can be designed, from a simple inquiry to a defective product or substandard service, with role-playing elements for students to experience the role of customers or customer service agents. This deepens students’ ability to put themselves in the shoes of a confused, angry, or frustrated customer and better anticipate their needs in future real-world situations. Experiential learning for training in this way is useful not only for customer-facing employees, but also for employees who build products for customers.

4. Virtual reality in production

It can be hard to imagine “learning by doing” in environments like manufacturing where mistakes can be costly. This challenge is exacerbated as production methods and processes are constantly evolving to accommodate new technologies that employees must adopt. But with the use of virtual reality (VR), students can train how to perform complex processes first-hand, and any “costly mistakes” – such as disrupting a critical process or breaching safety regulations – can be made in a risk-free virtual environment. At the same time, allowing employees to experience multiple scenarios using VR would allow them to gain experiences that would otherwise take much longer.


Own eLearning using experiential learning is the cornerstone of any successful training and development program. It creates individuals and teams that are much more adept at solving complex problems. It also makes it easier for students to manage and make decisions under uncertainty while helping them grow.

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