Building Experience Into Learning

In our study of training and development, there are multiple theories about adult learning.

We know that adults learn differently from children. This does not mean, however, that adult learning cannot be fun. Fun comes in many different formats.

What is (usually) not fun is a training session that is boring, disengaging, and ends up being a waste of valuable time.

This is where experiential learning can come into play. In order to counter the negative experiences of one way, lecture-based training sessions, experiential learning provides for participation and engagement on the part of the learners. Adult learning happens best when participants in training sessions are able to put into action real-life scenarios that are linked directly to their work life experiences.

The advantages and disadvantages of experiential training sessions are explored in a recent post found on

Click here to read the post.

As noted, good training programs allow the participants to ‘feel, taste, and experience’ that which they are there to learn. Experiential learning can go beyond the simple exercise of a role play when it builds on the actual internal individual reactions and responses to a given situation. That which adult learners experience, adult learners are able to remember, recall, and put into practice when the situation happens ‘for real’ in the future.

Experiential learning as discussed in our textbook and in the aforementioned post through David Kolb’s theories about learning styles, is not a singular approach. Kolb’s theories rely on a variety of individual approaches to learning and reinforce the need for including different experiential techniques or components into adult training modules.

Click here to access the article on Kolb’s learning styles.

Given that individuals learn differently, we need to ensure that different approaches are used when training programs are designed. Based on Kolb’s theories, not everyone will learn from a single group work activity during a training session, nor will everyone learn from a single training simulation, like a role play. Rather than designing a training program based on only one technique, it seems appropriate to use a variety of techniques in order to build the capacity for experiential learning for everyone.

It also builds the capacity for adult learners to have some fun.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As the HR leader for corporate training and development, how will you build Kolb’s experiential learning cycle into a customer service training module for tellers in a bank?
  2. Thinking about your own learning experiences; identify a course or a program that used experiential learning as the primary mode of training for the participants. How did it impact your own learning?
  3. How does experiential learning increase the development of ‘soft skills’ as noted in the article?


Informal Learning Matters


When developing workplace training and development programs, we have learned that good training design in based on the principles of adult learning. Adult learning, otherwise known as andragogy, differs from child-centered learning, known as pedagogy. Child-centered learning is perceived as traditional education which is structured and relies on external sources for motivation. Andragogy, relies on the principle of self-motivation and the application of past experience in the learning process for adults.

As we move though childhood into adulthood one of the major markers is the transition from school to work. For many Canadians, formal education begins with pre-school, at age 3 or 4 and extends well into young adulthood and post-secondary education. Following a school based education system provides most of us with at least twenty years of structured, formal learning. As we leave childhood, pedagogy and formal education may move behind us, but the need for learning does not stop. Learning happens differently once we move into adulthood. What was once filled by structured education shifts to the application of increased informal learning methodologies for adult learners.

According to recent research, the need for informal learning for working adults is on the rise. Brian Kessel explores the relationship between formal and informal learning in the workplace based on the statistics provided by the Conference Board of Canada.

Click here to read the article.

As noted in the article, as adults we may not have abandoned the concepts of formal learning completely.  Perhaps our need for formal learning is based on the fact that, for many of us, education was provided in a structured way for so many years and the imprint of those long-term processes are ingrained into our adult brains.

The good news is that that those brains continue to adapt and look for ways to keep learning alive both formally and informally as we progress throughout our adulthoods.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much time per week do you spend on informal learning in the workplace?
  2. As an adult, which learning environment is more comfortable for you – formal or informal? Explain your rationale
  3. Why should workplaces differentiate or categorize learning as formal or informal?