Experiential Learning- An overview

Experiential Learning thrives on a first-hand learner experience. This experience helps the user to derive learning through facilitating the accumulation of knowledge and skills by performing, analysing and reflecting on a particular activity. Post reflection, the adjustments are made to further refine the learnings right on the next attempt.

Experiential Learning is particularly an important tool in the domain of Learning and Development. On par with other domains, the L&D industry has also observed a shift in mindset with the advent of technological advancements. The mounting usage of experiential learning serves as a testimony to this change, whereby an employee-centric approach is now being focussed upon as against the practices in the past.

While experiential learning isn’t just a product of these modern advancements, the rising importance and usage of experiential learning is certainly a change that’s driven through these advancements. Experiential learning was used in the past. It has evolved and its extent is widening as ever!

The Kolb’s Model

The Kolb’s Model, formulated by David Kolb is one of the most famous experiential learning models. It classifies experiential learning into four stages-

  1. Concrete Experience
  2. Reflective Observation
  3. Abstract Conceptualisation
  4. Active Experimentation

According to this model, learners gather knowledge through a combination of grasping and transforming experience.

  • In the first stage, the Concrete Experience stage, they gain experience by trying something out. This can be anything that builds up an instance of an experience.

    Example- After observing your friend riding a bike, you decide to ride a bike yourself. When you finally ride, it amounts to a concrete experience.

  • The second stage or the Reflective Observation stage makes them go through the reflections of the experience gathered in the first stage. The learners reflect upon to learn from their experience. Analysing their experience in terms of positive practices and scope of improvements is the essence of this stage.

    Example- You analyse your experience of riding a bike. ‘What are the key takeaways? Was there anything that went wrong? If yes, then what? What were the positives that need to be continued?’

  • The third stage of Abstract Conceptualisation is the stage of planning for the next experience. The recommendations through the reflection stage are taken into account for enhanced performance in the future.

    Example- You found a problem in terms of shifting the gears at the right time. Jotting down this point to be kept in mind in the next stage so as to improve, is the main objective of this step.

  • Finally, the fourth stage or the Active Experimentation stage is the platform where the learner gets a chance to experiment with their improved plan of action.

    Example- You decide to work on your gear-shifting in your next attempt so as to further improve from the previous stage. You execute the modifications and, in the process, learn the changed approach through active experimentation.

This is Kolb’s model of experiential learning- It’s essentially a ‘Learning by doing’ approach. Many experiential learning-based training interventions are built up on the basis of this model.

Experiential Learning Tools

Experiential Learning delivers learning through a diverse set of tools/methods and techniques. These include age-old tools, at the same time, modern ones laced with high-quality advancements are also used as a part of many learning and development interventions in the 21st century.

Here’s a description of some tools that are used to deliver experiential learning to the candidates-

  • Simulations

    Simulations are experiential learning tools that create a simulated environment of the actual workplace. The Airline industry is one of the best examples of using simulations for training pilots wherein an environment of the aircraft in air is generated. The trainee pilots get to work in the exact situation as a pilot in the cockpit. It’s amazing to have such simulations, right? You certainly don’t expect a pilot to face tough situations in the air without any prior experience!

    Such simulations are rising in prominence in other industries too.

  • Case Studies

    Case Studies help in presenting a situation or a scenario in front of the learner. The learner gets to decide the course of action under a particular case study. Active Reflection of case studies are vital as they make the learner aware of the actions that they need to take under a similar situation that might arise in the future. The experience of dealing with a particular situation proves to be quite handy for the learner.

  • Field Visits

    Field visits are actual visits to designated areas of work such as a factory, a plant or an Industrial unit etc. A lot of knowledge including basic information about sophisticated machineries can be gathered through observation during a field visit.

  • Role Plays

    Role Plays include learning through a self-depiction of a particular case or an instance. It is a more personal form of experiential learning where indulgent learners step into the shoes of characters, taking a particular course of action to learn from a case. It is an extension of case study form of experiential learning wherein, the learners enact the case, in addition.

  • Management Games

    Management Games are modern forms of experiential learning. A lot of game-based activities are used by several organisations as a captivating intervention that increases the engagement of the learners. Management Games are highly advantageous for inculcating personal and organisational skills such as team work, problem-solving etc.

  • On the Job Training

    On the Job Training or OJT is an age-old experiential learning method. It is well-used in several industries where learners simultaneously learn as they work.

Apart from these discussed tools, there are several other tools and methods of experiential learning. These are used with respect to the requirement of the client organisation, particularly governed by the nature of work and the industry.

Experiential Learning- the way to go!

There are plenty of reasons that support the fact that experiential learning is the way to go in the Learning and Development function. These are discussed as follows-

The human brain is much more capable of retaining first-hand information that’s learnt through an active self-participation rather than an information that is learnt through rote methods. As a result, the trainees learn better under experiential form of learning.

Experiential learning is much more engaging and relatable than traditional forms of learning. It enhances user attention. In addition, it also adds to the user-motivation to learn. Modern methods of experiential learning are equipped to provide a great experience to the user.

Experiential learning is highly relevant to the training objectives. It is to-the-point and as a result, it reduces the information overload by eliminating unnecessary information.

The outcomes under an experiential learning program are better than those from the traditional ones. The learners not only learn in a better way, they’re also better off to apply the learnt concepts in the real-world work situation since they’ve been learning through an application-based program.


Experiential learning is vital than ever in the 21st century. As previously discussed, the organisational mindset has evolved towards a heightened focus on user-centricity. The users of a training program of any organisation are empathised upon. The employee turnover is high and hiring costs involve significant expenditure. As a result, it’s better to use methods that motivate a user or a learner towards the accumulation of skill-sets that result in the practical implementation while reducing the rates of attrition. This is ensured through an experiential learning program.

Under an experiential setting, there’s a great scope of self-learning. Self-learning is result-oriented since it provides a method to refine yourself. Continuous refinements lead to improvements that go a long way to enhance productivity in the actual workplace environment.

With low attention spans along with rising range of redundancies, experiential learning comes out as a panacea to the ineffective training interventions. It certainly deserves the appreciation in terms of rising usage, not only for the organisational benefit but also for individual growth of the employees through valuable skill-sets additions, particularly important in these times of immense competition.