Experiential learning, as you might guess, is learning by experience. Check out the wiki for more detail. It’s a great way to learn because it allows for application of newly acquired knowledge to real-world situations. Check out this recent ATD post for a few examples of how some companies have implemented impressive and robust experiential learning programs to develop their employees.
But times are changing. Mindy Mackenzie says it perfectly in a recent Chief Learning Officer post. “Companies are not obliged to develop every employee …or to create elaborate development plans…” It’s becoming more common for employees to be expected to drive their own career development rather than their employer.
Yikes! This may sound overwhelming not only for the employees who now need to own their development, but for the HR team that needs to convince them to do so. How can people get this kind of development if the company isn’t even offering it anymore? Good news, it’s not as difficult as you might think.
Every day at work is an experience – i.e. experiential learning. Communication breakdowns occur. Technology crashes. A customer crisis you never expected thwarts your day. When you’re involved in these types of events, they provide great opportunities for learning. Unfortunately they’re tough to plan for as the basis for experiential learning because you don’t know when they will happen.
There are, however, several types of projects that are commonly found in organizations that also provide a rich setting for experiential learning. They are more predictable and typically involve people from multiple areas of the company. Provided you know the specific area you want to focus on for development, you can tailor your participation to work on an aspect of the project that will allow you to use the skill you are seeking to develop. For example, if you’re targeting to improve your verbal communication skills, make sure your involvement in the project allows you to deliver presentations, facilitate meetings, etc.
5 Types of Projects to Seek out for Experiential Learning
1. New technology implementation.
Implementation of new technology is more than just pushing the button. There will be users impacted, implementation decisions to be made, and deadlines that need to be met. You can get experiential learning in areas such as communication, influence, decision making, and dealing with change, among others. Keep in mind, new technology gets implemented in every department, not just IT. Start asking people you know in different departments if they will be implementing new technology in the near future to identify potential opportunities.
2. Cost savings project.
In today’s world, cost savings is not just for the finance team. I’m betting you’ve been impacted by various cost-cutting measures on a regular basis at some point in the recent past. Cost-cutting projects can lead to the creation of more innovative and creative products, services, or processes, particularly in older organizations that still rely on manual yet labor-intensive work. If you’re looking to develop your problem solving skills, learn more about your company’s business, or work on building relationships with others, ask around to find out where a cost-savings project is going on.
3. New product development.
Many companies develop new products on a regular basis to stay current. This type of project is great to work on if you’re looking to learn more about your company’s strategy or customers. Experiential learning may result from lots of cross-functional exposure because there will be stakeholders from across the company involved in the project. In addition to the technical experts for the new product, you may need to work with people in communications, marketing, production, perhaps IT or finance to name a few. When looking for new product work, think broadly. New products don’t necessarily need to be tangible. They could also be services offered by a support department, such as a new consulting service offered by HR or a new reporting feature available on customer invoices.
4. Company strategy / goals / vision / values.
From time to time, organizations examine their strategic plan. Often teams are formed to provide input to leadership from various perspectives. Participating in this type of activity can help you build relationships with people across the company and also develop strategic thinking skills. Participation in these types of teams is not always solicited publicly so ask your boss or a trusted adviser to let you know when they hear of potential opportunities to participate.
5. Lessons learned / postmortem.
Sometimes, mistakes are made. When the impact of the mistake is significant, your company may form a team to examine the situation in depth as a learning experience to prevent it from reoccurring. Next time you learn of a significant mistake made in your area, ask to be involved in the lessons learned exercise for your development. It could pose opportunity to build your analytical skill by examining the mistake itself, while also applying your ability to communicate and collaborate with others through discussions that may be sensitive.
If you’re not aware of projects or teams like this in your company, start seeking them out by asking. If you’re not comfortable asking your boss, ask people you have strong relationships with, or ask your HR representative. Chances are someone will have an urgent need for help and see your inquiry as a win-win approach.
Have you informally received experiential learning by working on a project? What did you learn and how did you experience it in the project? Share your insight in the comments.