Almost every job description you’ve ever seen likely included a section titled “Education” and a section titled “Experience.” We can assume that organizations that create these description feel that these two categories are separate and distinct. Even with the onset of the term “experiential learning” in the 1980s, based on learning style philosophies and theories at the time, thinking that actually blends education and experience didn’t take hold until more than 30 years later, with the onset of “skills-based hiring” in 2012.

At present, some companies are moving to a purer model: If applicants can prove they have the technological skills, business acumen and emotional intelligence to be successful at a job, experience (as defined by years in a certain industry) and education (as defined by degrees or certifications) become unimportant.

Modern Experiential Learning

Simply put, modern experiential learning is learning by doing. It gives employees the opportunity to do their job first through a learning process, gaining education and experience simultaneously. Proven through successful completion in a learning environment, the employee is then turned loose in the “real world.”

Here are five steps you can use to implement experiential learning:

1. Define the Job Function

Identify a few real-world problems the learners will have to solve or tasks they will need to complete in their role.

2. Define the Ideal Employee

Describe what an ideal employee in this role looks like from the standpoint of technological skills, business acumen and emotional intelligence.

3. Create the Learning Experience

Translate these definitions into a “case” with as much detail as possible, and reverse-engineer the training using the ideal employee as the learning outcome requirement.

4. Add the Intangibles

Introduce experience alongside education through the case, teaching participants about the business and the technology they need to solve the case and weaving in the emotional intelligence element as necessary.

5. Engage Leaders

If they’re available throughout the process, engage leaders in real-world Q&A sessions, written communication and live presentations to enhance the training experience.

Going through this process with three to five cases and just-in-time teaching is not only efficient but hits all aspects of Kolb’s experiential learning cycle by enabling the learners to:

  • Have the experience (concrete experience).
  • Gain feedback from the employer (reflection).
  • Adjust their thinking (conceptualization).
  • Practice what they’ve learned (experimentation).

The goal is for learners to complete their actual work successfully one or more times and to instill them with confidence that they have what they need to be successful in their role. The technique also produces the byproducts of increased return on investment (ROI) and improved employee engagement.

Virtual Experiential Learning Tools

A socially distanced world has quickly replaced almost all in-person immersive environments and on-the-job simulations with some form of remote learning. While some organizations may be holding out, it’s important to face the truth: Technologies that we arguably should have been using in the first place are now here to stay. Here are a few that are working well for most organizations:

Remote Work Simulations

By treating employees as if they are already in their new role, organizations can help them quickly understand the day-to-day in which they will find themselves. This immersion often brings about questions, issues and learning that wouldn’t have normally come up in a remote environment.

In-depth simulations include emails, texts, assignments, phone calls and other communications from employees’ new manager or someone playing that role to create as realistic an environment as possible, with a heavy emphasis on the technologies that the employees will be using.

Gaming and Gamification

Arguably a component of training that we should always include, gamification is even more important in a remote setting. Having goals that are benchmarked against others helps trainees reflect on what they can improve next time. Receiving feedback through comparisons and numeric or time-based elements is key. Game mechanics like deadlines, choices among multiple paths and obstacles to overcome increase engagement and help create a lifelike environment.

Virtual Reality

As real as it gets in a socially distanced world, virtual reality (VR) enables employees to perform a task in a physical environment that they cannot visit. A VR environment makes it possible for employees to experience the real world without the risk, making it a place where they can fail safely. Learners in a simulated world explore more innovative options, because they don’t need to fear what could happen. Employers can also track behaviors in VR and confirm learning.

The bottom line? Experiential learning is effective, and it’s here to stay. There are many ways to implement it, but at this time, using technology in some form is key to inserting as much experience into the education process as possible.

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them” (Aristotle).

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on experiential learning, which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.