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The Importance Experiential Learning in E-Learning Modules

Damian Hehire-learning

The Importance Experiential Learning in E-Learning Modules

While the term experiential learning is clearly training industry jargon, it is something most people are familiar with. Just think of all the things where your skills improved the more you did them, whether in sport, working with IT, delivering presentations, cooking dinner, etc.

The term experiential learning involves applying that concept – learning by doing – to your training courses. In particular, your e-learning modules.

How Experiential Learning Works

Experiential learning is a process that, as mentioned above, involves doing. It also involves failing, making mistakes, reflecting, and planning.

It is a circular process rather than a linear one, without a clearly defined start or endpoint. Arguably, there is no endpoint at all, as whatever we do, we can always improve. 

This is often what sets great sportspeople, artists, and businesspeople apart from everyone else, i.e. even when they get to the top, their ambition and desire to improve burns as hotly as it did in the early stages of their development.

The stages in the circular experiential learning process include:

  • Having the experience – trying new skills, applying new knowledge, and generally “doing”
  • Reviewing the experience – considered reflection on the actions taken and decisions made during the experience
  • Learning – asking the question “what can I do to make the next time better”
  • Having the experience again – applying what was learned in previous iterations when going through the experience again

How to Apply Experiential Learning in E-Learning

The main way to apply experiential learning in e-learning is through branching scenarios. This is where you present learners with a situation that is realistic and relevant. Learners must then make decisions and/or take actions where the next step in the scenario, as well as the outcome, depends on the actions and decisions of the learner.

Simpler scenarios, gamification elements, and simulations can also add experiential learning features to your e-learning courses.

The Benefits of Experiential Learning in E-Learning

Learner Engagement

Learner engagement is a topic we talk about a lot as it is crucial to all training activities, whether that is e-learning, classroom-based learning, blended learning, or any other learning method.

Learner engagement is crucial as the more learners are engaged with the training, the more they will learn and the more likely they will be to apply that learning in their day-to-day work activities.

As a key part of experiential learning is interactivity, where the learner must do something, it encourages engagement.

Turns Theory into Reality

The gap between theory and reality is a common challenge in workplace training. If learners can’t see how new skills and knowledge apply to them – or benefits them – they are unlikely to take the training onboard.

Experiential learning elements in e-learning modules are effective tools for bridging this gap between theory and reality.

Enhances Understanding

Experiential learning provides a deeper level of understanding than other forms of training. 

This can be seen by observing learners as they go through an experiential learning experience. They may have been presented with the knowledge beforehand, but they will still make mistakes. This is part of the process, but it also demonstrates how experiential learning deepens understanding compared to simply being presented with knowledge.

Improves Adaptability

Experiential learning works best when there is uncertainty and variability. In other words, where decisions and actions follow on from each other, and where there are no clear right or wrong answers.

This uncertainty and variability help improve the adaptability of learners, enabling them to use their new skills or knowledge in a wider range of situations. After all, it is not possible to anticipate every eventuality when developing an e-learning module. 

Allows Learning in a Safe Space

While learning by doing is highly effective, it is not possible in all situations, particularly when the situation is risky or dangerous. Adding experiential learning elements to e-learning modules is the solution.

This is because e-learning creates a safe space where it is possible to simulate dangerous situations without any risk to the learner. Applying an experiential learning approach makes the simulation as realistic as possible.

The safe space that e-learning creates is also beneficial to topics that are not risky as it allows learners to fail and make mistakes without embarrassment. In a classroom situation, for example, learners might be unwilling to fully engage with the experiential learning element because they are worried about the perception of others. They don’t want to look foolish.

E-learning creates a safe space for making the mistakes necessary for experiential learning to be at its most effective.

Encourages Shared Learning

While the above point is true, you can also use experiential learning in some situations to encourage shared learning, where employees work and learn together, raising overall standards in the group. 

You can achieve this by adding social features to e-learning modules that make it possible for learners to interact with their peers.

Improves Assessment

There are a number of methods and approaches you can use to assess both learners and the overall effectiveness of your e-learning module. This includes, for example, looking at results from quizzes.

Reviewing and assessing how a learner deals with an experiential learning element in your course, however, will give you a better understanding of their new capabilities. This is because it is much harder to guess or wing-it in, for example, a branching scenario.

You should also see the progress of learners as they go through scenarios multiple times, improving each time they complete the exercise.

Experiential Learning is About ROI Too

The central theme of the above is that experiential learning improves your e-learning courses, not only enhancing the skills and knowledge of employees, but also helping them begin using those new skills and knowledge. As a result, experiential learning delivers an enhanced return on your training investment.