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The secret sauce for efficient training: experiential learning

Over a century ago, Hermann Ebbinghaus wrote about the learning curve, a concept that quantifies the relationship between memory and time. In a nutshell, it states that, during a lecture, if your absorption rate is at 100 percent on day one, there is a 50-80 percent loss of learning from the second day onward, which is reduced to a retention rate of just 2-3 percent at the end of thirty days.

And again, that was a hundred years ago, a time when people’s attention span was a little larger than what it is today.

For learning and development specialists this poses quite the challenge. Furthermore, there has been a fundamental shift in the way people learn, all due to the advancements in mobile technology and the rise of the digital tribe – a generation that is used to finding information by way of a few clicks on a device and no longer has the patience to thoroughly go through extensive training materials on a certain subjects.

These are the reasons why experiential learning is on the rise and presents itself like the viable solution for development in the workplace.

Experience beats repetition

Back when I was in school, the teaching method started with the theoretical aspects, followed by some application of them in exercises and ending with repetition of the newly acquired information. Experimenting was limited to the chemistry and biology lab and even in there it only happened a few times per learning cycle.

Yet learning by doing has proved to be very efficient and today’s technology allows for the design of online life-like environments where learners can have a more hands-on approach to their own education.

Unlike the old fashion method of starting with the theoretical part, experiential learning begins with experimenting.

Experiential learning aims to give people an opportunity to complete tasks as they would in real life and draw learning from them. It’s not that only hearing and repeating the information does not work but this type of knowledge acquisition is less time consuming. Especially in the case of the mature learner who has been removed from the traditional classroom from some time, giving them the motivation to learn is essential.

The cycle looks like this:

The secret sauce for efficient training: experiential learning

Developing new learning behaviors

Especially when we are talking about corporate learning, the end purpose is a change in behavior that will ultimately result in better company outcomes. Experimenting with new behaviors, and receiving feedback in a safe environment greatly helps learners relate theory to practice and analyze real-life situations in order to get a better understanding.

The most important part of experiential learning is experimenting and practicing. This can be easily incorporated in e-learning courses either with the help of watch-try-do simulations or even immersive scenarios. Having such experiences not only helps them form a strong base of knowledge but also reduces the chances of error when performing the same activities in their workplace.

The use of quizzes, interactive questionnaires and even some of the game mechanics greatly increases engagement and involvement with the course.

Watch-try-do simulations are very useful when it comes to training employees on new software applications. Having errors occur after new applications go into use can prove to be both costly and frustrating. It is a lot safer for learners to commit errors in a simulated environment, learn from them and get to try again before having to perform the tasks on the job.

Experiential learning encourages continuous development

Experiential learning sparks the interest for exploring and discovery. Learners are put in the position of handling new or unfamiliar situations that they will later have to deal with in real life. This encourages them to analyze a problem, evaluate their knowledge, figure out the gaps, find out the ways in which they can acquire new and relevant information, and synthesize and apply the learning to get a viable solution.

Experiential learning allows people to take control of the learning process and acquire new skills or information in the way they feel most comfortable. Self-directed learning helps cultivate curiosity and that makes them learners for life.

Experiential learning lets learners develop their workplace skills in a safe and controlled environment. It ensures learning is at the same time contextual, realistic, engaging, and most important, effective.


E-learning designers are always looking for new ways of engaging participants and attaining learning goals. Using experiential learning to create learner-focused environments hold great promise in this respect.