Having the opportunity to do, experiment, fail/succeed and reflect is responsible for so many of our achievements and our characters. It imprints learning in our memory, and give credence to the expression:
"It's like riding a bike"
Can courses, training manuals or discussions - without the experiential learning element - result in that level of learning? Could you learn to ride a bike without ever getting on one, falling off and giving it another try?
As the CEO of Ethical Angel I am constantly talking with L&D, HR Leaders and C-suite. I study surveys on employee engagement, retention and development. I scour white papers and reports on workforce upskilling needs, the 4th Industrial revolution and the concerns of think tanks. And it always leads me back to the same question…
When Did Learning & Development Get Stuck in the Structures of Theoretical Learning?
L&D Investment Focuses on Structured Learning
The fundamental challenge with ongoing learning and development in corporate life is that many of the opportunities for learning are built around structured programs, and that’s not real.
Business schools, third-party vendors and internal trainers present knowledge in packaged, accessible ways. They provide a structure for their learning product. Hoops for your employees to jump through so they hit ‘micro goals’ that all add up to learning data which gives you the confidence that your learning platform is ‘working’.
But real life isn’t structured, a case study is not a script and thoughtfully built slide decks won’t provide all the answers.
It’s time for L&D leaders to acknowledge this and bravely look beyond their theoretical or simulation based learning platforms to provide experiential learning opportunities for their employees.
What is Experiential Learning?
Juxtaposed to the purely cognitive focus of structured learning, is experiential learning, first proposed by psychologist David Kolb in the 1980s. Where “knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combinations of grasping and transforming the experience”.
This is a more holistic approach to learning and emphasizes how the experience, including environmental, cognitive and emotional factors influence the learning process.
It’s real. It’s personal. It’s valuable.
Stacks. Stacks. Studies in higher education have shown how experiential learning delivers not only better knowledge retention but also improved attitudes to learning.
Other benefits include:
- A better grasp of concepts through real-world application
- Increased opportunity for creative problem-solving
- Reflection on outcomes engages more parts of the brain, creating stronger connections to material
- Mistakes are valuable experiences
Why is Experiential Learning so Important Now?
Simple. Remote or hybrid working doesn’t provide the opportunities that in-office working does when it comes to experiential learning...
The office was the best opportunity we had for experiential learning. Every day, communally, we were dealing with real life opportunities for creativity, problem-solving and reflections.
Anyone reading this will, assuming they haven’t joined the workforce in the past 2 years, remember a time where they learned from real-life experience. Professional competencies from attending meetings together and reflecting afterwards with colleagues and soft (power) skills from interacting with each other.
It is one of the reasons many employers want people to return to the office because they value experiential learning osmosis for their community. But to fight the changing tide would be foolish. Employees expect more flexibility now and if you fight against change you will risk losing your top talent.
So, it’s time to start building experiential learning into your L&D strategy.
If Not the Office, Where?
Every engagement is experiential learning, from learning a new game and then teaching it to family or having a dispute with a neighbour…
But this is not recognisable by businesses, without some form of standardised data it is difficult to assess benefit or transformation.
Instead, we must look to technology for the answer.
Another Tech Solution…Great!
Technology is here to stay, the largest three global banks, JP Morgan, Bank of America and Citi spent between 15%-20% of their operating costs on IT in 2020. As a percentage, that is more than Amazon at 12% of operating costs.
Already embedded in our daily lives, technology will inevitably take on a bigger role within commerce – with greater accuracy and more efficiency than you or I.
But technology has a weakness, it is (until the AI revolution) as good as its programmer. Like the structured learning courses discussed earlier, it can be taught. But, it cannot learn through personally determined experience and involvement to the extent a human can.
What to Learn?
We have discussed the benefits of experiential learning and recognise that in order to access it at scale we need a technology solution. We accept that technology will continue to advance and take on more of the tasks within an organisation that require efficiency, and crucially, that can be programmed.
So, we would be giving employees around the globe the opportunity to learn skills that cannot be taught, only experienced.
Soft skills, power skills. Skills that over a lifetime are honed and developed through real-world interaction. Skills like empathy, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, time management.
Skills that McKinsey, LinkedIn and others recognise as the skills critical for the future workforce.
Skills that provide the greatest return on investment to an employer not only through a more effective, confident and empowered workforce but due to the employee retention factors this approach has proven to deliver.
What Does Ethical Angel Have to Do with All This?
We are a Bcorp on a mission to make learning purposeful.
We provide an adaptive user experience, built on an employee's personality type, role and aspirations for the future. Our platform shows employees what soft ‘power’ skills they need to ‘level-up’.
The magic happens when they click ‘level-up’, as it takes that user to a real-life project, ordered for free by an Ethical Angel Cause in one of 52 countries.
Engaging in the project not only provides a valuable experience of doing and reflecting for the employee but a genuine impact for a charity, social enterprise, NGO or startup.
Ethical Angel benefits people, planet and profit and our reporting proves it. Come and see how: