The corporate training landscape doesn’t look the same as it did five years ago. In the learning and development (L&D) community, there is a continuous drive to find ways to innovate the delivery and design of training to enable learners to develop the skills they need to drive transformation and growth for their organizations.

To create these engaging moments, L&D leaders are turning to experiential learning to create active, hands-on, integrated and memorable learning experiences. Experiential learning can help learners master new skills by being immersed in real-world problem-solving and applying new insights in the day-to-day work of their organizations.

There are many ways to create experiential learning. The key components are a hands-on element or simulation of a real-world problem, application of knowledge or a skill to solve that problem either individually or in a group, and reflection on the experience.

Scenario-based Learning

Microlearning videos and courses can be effective in conveying the knowledge learners need to solve problems. This form of learning turns into experiential learning when it simulates the real world, when it is collaborative and when it is combined with reflection.

There is a big difference between a change management course that uses a single speaker, “talking head” format and a change management course filmed like a movie, with multiple characters who react to changes in their workplace in unexpected ways and a manager main character who is trying to steer the ship. This scenario-based format can show what change management really looks like — full of emotions, fear, anger, competition among colleagues and confusion.

Lending itself to “What if?” discussions in a leadership cohort, this format encourages reflection that can cement learning in the minds of the participants. The combination of best practices and storytelling creates a powerful intellectual and emotional experience, making this learning impactful and memorable.

Games and Online Simulations With Real-time Feedback

Hands-on learning can happen securely using games and simulations that enable learners to make decisions and see immediate results. Simulations can challenge learners with best-case scenarios, common scenarios and worst-case scenarios, giving them broad experience across different business situations.

Learning can also extend to how the team dynamic might change under different scenarios when performed by existing teams within the organization. Each time the team sees an outcome of its actions, there is an opportunity for reflection that helps the team develop a shared understanding.

Organizations use simulations to teach topics as varied as customer service, marketing strategy, diversity and inclusion, and team leadership. Brandon Hall Group’s recent survey “Transition to the New Realities of the COVID-19 Experience” found that organizations’ use of online games and simulations as a “‘go-to’ tool” rose following the onset of the pandemic, from 3% in April to 13% in July.

Virtual Reality

Virtual reality (VR) is already widely used in gaming, and there are many ways it can support skill development in business. Imagine giving a presentation to a virtual audience, practicing workplace safety on a virtual factory floor or speaking with a virtual irate customer. The immersive experience of VR helps learners become comfortable with the emotions and sensations of these situations, equipping them with the confidence to use their new skills in real life.

Technology Coding Labs

Coding labs enable hands-on, project-based learning. Developers can create new mobile apps, websites or programs to solve a variety of problems in a sandbox environment, where they can write code safely and securely without installing software. Labs can also be enable learners to demonstrate mastery of a new skill and show that they are ready to apply it, as the projects they complete in the lab can form a portfolio of their accomplishments.

Project-based Learning

Many companies couple on-demand or instructor-led training (ILT) with projects, job rotations or new job assignments. These projects are often sponsored by organizational leaders and tackle an urgent business problem. They enable ambitious employees to take on stretch assignments that help them apply a new skill in a way that provides value to the organization. These assignments are often incremental projects conducted alongside the employee’s current role, and they provide new visibility that can serve as a stepping stone to expanded responsibility, a promotion or a new role.

Case Studies Authored by Internal Experts

Case studies are often used in business schools, where groups of students play the role of business executives and collaborate to solve problems. Professors typically write these case studies, describing complex business contexts in real companies. Within an organization, internal experts, frontline workers and customer service representatives are often in the best position to author case studies that can help a new hire or a new team member develop customer insights and the skills to solve customer service problems.

In particular, frontline workers often know the most about the customer needs, behaviors and issues that arise and how customers react to them. These types of detailed case studies can create an experiential learning experience that will be engaging, memorable and impactful.

Live Learning With Peer Collaboration

In Deloitte’s 2020 “Global Human Capital Trends” report, 79% of respondents agreed that “‘fostering a sense of belonging in the workforce’ was important or very important to their organization’s success in the next 12 to 18 months.” In the pre-pandemic world, the solution for integrating this sense of belonging into corporate training was to weave together in-person learning with digital, mobile and on-demand training. Until it’s safe to be together in person, organizations can add virtual instructor-led training (VILT) to their learning program and leverage the collaboration capabilities native to VILT platforms to add an element of live interactivity.

One of these VILT capabilities is virtual breakout rooms, which allow for team collaboration, group reflection and discussion on how to apply learning to daily work. Virtual breakouts enable learners to meet one on one with their peers to have conversations about learning material. Together, they can brainstorm, work through content and collaborate to develop solutions. They can also learn from colleagues on how they overcame a problem or seek their advice on mastering a skill set.

Another VILT capability is live polling, which training professionals can use as a way to work through a case study with a large group. Each polling question can lead to rich debate, “what if” analysis and new understanding. Whiteboards can support team collaboration, and discussion boards can enable continuous dialogue and Q&A throughout the process.

Open discussions and case study sessions provide learners with the opportunity to use their new skills in real-world scenarios — together and in a safe space. Live role-playing also offers opportunities to apply learning to real-world challenges in the virtual environment, encouraging learners to practice communication skills and engage in teamwork.

All of these forms of experiential learning help employees practice existing skills and build new skills through active projects and hands-on practice that simulates the real world and encourages reflection.

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