It’s often tempting to ask why the traditional corporate training classroom environment hasn’t changed in centuries —a traditional model of students at desks with an expert imparting knowledge (an industry standard).

But is this environment effective? When is the last time one truly learned something sitting in a classroom, listening for hours?

Despite evidence that this old-school approach to training doesn’t work, it continues to be the standard for most corporations. But as firms require employees do more with less, it’s even more imperative that workers be properly trained from the beginning to avoid losing productive work time, and ultimately becoming frustrated and ineffective.

Remember how one learns to ride a bike. It doesn’t come from watching a film or reading directions. Instead, a parent or an older sibling takes you outside and walks you through the step-by-step process, from how to get on the bike to how to pedal. You work on each step on your own until you finally figure it out.

You didn’t know it then, but this was highly-interactive and highly-experiential learning.

Also known as human-centered design, experiential learning flips the model making the learner (not the instructor) the center of the classroom experience, so that the learner does 80 percent of the work with a facilitator coaching them through the training experience. The focus is then simplifying content and blending IQ and EQ skills to make content stick, resonate for all learning styles, while drawing people into their learning journey.

This approach consistently exceeds Kirkpatrick’s Level 1 assessment targets, and according to survey data on Level 3 assessments from Oxygen Learning, there is a 30 percent increase by attendees in confidence to perform a higher quality of work using what they learned in class.

In this type of classroom there are no tables and no lectern. All coursework is custom designed. Similar to a Montessori school, it is decorated with colorful visual displays on the wall. Upbeat music plays in the background as learners enter the room and a handwritten welcome sign is prominently displayed at the door. This classroom sparks a learner’s curiosity and instantly makes participants want to engage and learn more from the moment they enter.

HGST, a Western Digital Company that develops and manufactures advanced data storage solutions with more than 41,000 employees worldwide, is utilizing experiential learning to engage its 1,400 global managers on a new approach to performance management and leadership, as the company looks to transform its corporate culture.

HGST has relied on a traditional approach to performance management which included bi-annual written performance evaluations and a numbers-based rating system to provide feedback to employees on their performance. This process also feeds into decision making on employee’s compensation.

Annette Pellinat, HGST’s Global Senior Director of talent management and acquisition, said that her company decided to eliminate performance ratings altogether and move away from “event-driven” performance evaluations. Instead, her company put in place a practice of on-going and continuous feedback focused on performance and development that would help the employee do their best work every day.

“This was a radical shift for our leaders and our employees,” she said. “We really had to focus on culture change and how we could socialize these concepts in U.S. and Asia. We also needed to resolve how we would reward employees without having performance ratings and continue to reinforce our pay-for-performance philosophy.”

Pellinat added that her company took a top-down approach by starting training with their highest-level executives who needed to support and model this new approach. They were then prepared to hold their managers accountable to the new system and provide guidance and feedback along the way. By November, all 1,400 leaders worldwide will have gone through the training.

Pellinat said the positive feedback from the training is incredible and the level of engagement is like nothing she’s ever seen before.

“Leaders come into the room not knowing what to expect – some are highly skeptical about the changes and don’t understand how we can manage without performance ratings,” she explained. “The way the session has been designed with the facilitator presenting concepts and the managers working together in a highly engaging experiential process, they are really able to see for themselves how it will work. They own the concepts and are prepared to leave the session and start engaging with their employees in a new way.”

New-school training affecting the bottom line

Companies are preparing employees to implement what they have learned, beginning the day after training. Learners can also bring current work to the training so they can apply what they learn to their real world. They know how to do it, not just the theory on how it should be done.

As business changes, the training method needs to change as well. The first step is by evolving the training to make sure it is designed in a way that increases retention and application, improving the way people work. Ultimately, every training effort should enable employees to be prepared once they walk out the training room door.