Gen Why - Michelle Eggleston

Experiential learning, or learning by doing, amplifies knowledge retention by putting the learner in the center of the action – whether in the context of the workflow, a virtual simulation or working through a game-based learning scenario. It is through this application of knowledge that learners develop problem-solving skills to navigate the challenges they face on the job.

As Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve shows us, 90 percent of learning will be lost within one week of training if the skills and knowledge are not reinforced or applied directly to the job. To protect training dollars from being wasted, organizations must have a strategy in place to ensure learners are immediately applying new skills in the workplace. Experiential learning activities can reinforce skills and information learned in a formal training program.

Technology-Enabled Experience

Not surprisingly, millennials are the most digitally ready segment of the workforce, according to Training Industry research. Having grown up in a technologically charged world, this generation is the most comfortable with technology and finds it easy to navigate. As millennials gain majority in the workplace, organizations are turning to technology to engage employees in training.

But technology isn’t just fun and engaging for millennials. Learning through short videos, games and mobile devices are engaging options for all employees. Many organizations are investing in technology-enabled learning experiences to onboard employees. The food service industry uses games to teach employees about portion size and products. The aviation industry uses simulations to train pilots and prepare them for crisis situations. And the software industry is providing virtual labs to IT professionals to learn new programs before implementation.

There are many opportunities to leverage technology in training to drive behavior change in a safe and controlled environment. Organizations need to identify and select the most appropriate delivery method for their desired outcome.

Experience Sans Technology

Experiential learning is not limited to technology-enabled activities. Learning by doing occurs through mentoring, storytelling, on-the-job training, apprenticeships and job shadowing. For example, I worked for a few summers at a glass factory during college. Before starting work, I attended a week-long instructor-led onboarding program. A large portion of the training was focused on glass defects that I would encounter on the job. As a bottle inspector, I would be sitting in front of a light bulb on a conveyor line, throwing out damaged bottles. I was a form of quality control. During the training, we viewed pictures of various defects, as well as real examples of flawed bottles to feel and analyze. I was also provided a laminated job aid of the various defects to keep as a reference tool.

After completing the classroom training, I started work as an inspector. The training provided me with a foundational knowledge of the defects I would be looking for, but did not account for the short amount of time I would be given to inspect each bottle. The conveyor moved quickly – much faster than I was anticipating. If I stopped the conveyor to further inspect bottles, the line would become backed up. In manufacturing, there isn’t an off switch – the bottles keep coming.

Through the help of other employees and my supervisor, I learned tricks and tips to quickly inspect bottles. By having the ability to learn in my actual work environment, I reinforced the information I learned in formal training, while experiencing the real-life variables of speed and time.

Accounting for the Full Experience

It is the combination of formal and informal learning activities that prepares employees to successfully navigate the complexities of their job. Reinforcement is a critical component of training that needs to be accounted for when developing a training strategy. By integrating experience into training, organizations can amplify knowledge and drive behavior change.