We’ve all been there - the typical learning experience. We sit in a room and we’re inundated with visual and audio information from the ’sage on stage’ and his or her slides and documents. If we’re lucky enough to be part of an “innovative” approach, we might be inundated virtually instead, bombarded with videos and digitised text content, discussions and quizzes.
Once we’ve sat and listened and watched we're then expected to recall and - often - to regurgitate what we’ve “learned” in order to pass an exam and to get a certificate. Once it’s all over, we’re expected somehow to translate what we’ve regurgitated into transformative new ways of thinking and behaving.
Be it online or in the classroom, in formal education or in the workplace learning and development sector, this knowledge-transfer / content-dumping approach to teaching and learning remains the dominant approach globally. But the thing is - it doesn’t work.
When we dump information on humans, we’re working against how their brains work. Cognitive Load Theory has proven again and again that the brain can only take so much at once. At the same time, Constructivist learning theorists have shown repeatedly that, unless we actively recall and do something with what we learn, we won’t retain it.
What’s the solution? For many, it's micro-learning - splitting the stuff up into smaller chunks before trying to push it into learners’ brains. This solution misses the point - it oversimplifies a more complex problem.
However much you divide information up, if all you do is see and/or hear it, you won’t remember it for much longer than a week and you certainly won’t change your behaviours as a result of it. In a micro-learning scenario, the content dump is smaller but you’re still stuck in the same old cycle of cram - exam - forget.
So what’s a better answer? A better answer is Experiential Learning, or learning by doing. Experiential Learning is basically learning by actively doing something in a context which resembles something close to life-like conditions. It’s basically what a flight simulator is to pilots; simulated environments and challenges which, through trial and error and feedback develop the knowledge and skills needed to to it for real.
In the classroom, the Experiential method of learning means replacing traditional chalk-and-talk pedagogy with inquiry, problem-based and project-based learning, transforming the sit-and-listen lecture into the have-a-go, hands-on workshop.
Outside the classroom, Experiential Learning - or Work-integrated learning (WIL) - tends to be about learning through service within one’s area of study and expertise. This might include learning about leadership and innovation through helping business to solve real-life problems or taking part in ‘leadership walks’ which require decision making and team-work.
In the coming years, the Experiential approach will, more than any other single innovation in learning design and delivery, play a disruptive part in the future of both formal education and workplace learning and development globally. Why?
Impact - It Works! Close-to-real-life experience + supported reflection is proven to supports learners not just to develop skills but also to understand and retain in the long term complex information.
Demand - It’s Needed! Experiential Learning meets a growing demand from both the global formal education sector and the workplace L&D sector for next-generation learning experiences which support people both to learn and to apply their learning at the same time, inside and outside of the classroom.
Digital Experiential Learning, with its ability to deliver rich, site-free learning experiences at scale and on demand is a little explored but potentially doubly disruptive prospect for both formal learning and workplace training.
At Cohort, we’re pioneering entirely online and blended "digital-first” Experiential Learning design and delivery. We’re experimenting with this methodology for design and delivery in a number of ways with a number of clients - check out four examples:
University of Oxford & Canvas: an innovative problem-based learning experience delivered on Canvas for Master’s students at the University of Oxford’s Said Business School.
Cabinet Office & EdX: a new, innovative team-based Experiential approach to the Government Communication Service’s global campaigns and communications training.
Pearson & EdX: a first-of-its-kind Experiential Fintech course which not only hones learners’ knowledge but also, through teamwork and immersive activities with ‘real life’ products (e.g. product prototypes), equips learners with the skills, behaviours and artefacts that they need to apply their learning in the real world.
One of our key learnings so far is that existing platforms aren’t built to support the delivery of fully-digital Experiential learning experiences. So, we decided to take the lead and build a new, first-of-its-kind technology - Viper. A first-of-its-kind Experiential Learning platform, Viper has the capability deliver fully online, coach-supported Experiential Learning experiences, opening up the opportunity to hone knowledge and build skills and capabilities quickly, effectively and at scale.
Over the last couple of weeks, we have kicked-off a pilot of our first fully digital Experiential learning experience in collaboration with award-winning professional development provider, QA. Together, we have designed and delivered on the Viper platform a pioneering Agile Project Management course.
Drawing on Experiential Learning principles, learners on the course aren't passive recipients of information but actively participate as real-life Agile Project Managers who, supported by a team and a dedicated expert coach, learn through doing and ‘being’ Agile project managers in a safe and supported environment. The result? Agile Project Managers with not just the knowledge but also the skills and behaviours that they need to support the implementation of Agile Project management methods in their workplace.
The appetite for this next-generation, high-impact learning experience has been significant, with multiple world-leading corporates including Coca-Cola, BBC, Aldi, E-On and the Post Office eagerly signing up to take part in the pilot of a new sort of L&D which delivers real, measurable impact on employees' capabilities.