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Key Takeaways

Your brief summary of the key points. Continue reading to explore what experiential learning is and why it's important


What is experiential learning

Experiential learning or learning by experience is a highly engaging and immersive learning process. Learners actively engage in experiences to acquire new knowledge and practice existing skills. The goal is for learners to connect theoretical concepts with hands-on activities that let them apply those ideas directly to everyday life scenarios. This type of learning emphasizes active participation over passive observation–students learn by doing.

Background - Learning from experience

Humans have been using experiential learning techniques since the beginning of time. Hunting, gathering and even fire lighting revolve around trying things out, reflecting on what happened, relating to other known concepts, and experimenting with other methods to refine what works best.

Moving forward a few thousand years, learning by experience has been gaining popularity in recent years, particularly among educators and employers looking to equip their students or employees with the skills they need to face real-world challenges. This style of learning is based on the idea that it’s best for people to gain knowledge through experience rather than just watching a slideshow, reading textbooks, or listening to lectures.

Passive pupils passively peruse pre-existing principles and practices. On the other hand, experiential learning takes an active approach through which individuals gain knowledge, skills, and insights from direct experiences. Such experiences are structured to reflect on what has been learned to build upon that knowledge and develop new understanding. By engaging with their environment in this way, learners can accrue meaningful insight into any topic or subject area.

So what exactly the benefits of experiential learning and how can you make use of this approach in practice? In this article, we’ll answer these questions and more as we explore the world of experiential learning.

What are the benefits of experiential learning

Experiential learning methods can provide a variety of benefits:

Critical Thinking

Firstly, it allows individuals to develop critical thinking skills. By engaging in hands-on activities, learners can actively explore ideas and apply their knowledge in real-world situations. This helps them better understand concepts, as well as nurturing their problem-solving and decision-making abilities.

Foster Collaboration

Secondly, experiential learning helps foster collaboration amongst peers by encouraging group work on projects or tasks that require collective effort. Students learn how to work together towards common goals by sharing ideas, discussing potential solutions, and building upon each other’s insights. This type of dialogue leads to an increased level of engagement among participants which is beneficial for overall performance.

Facilitators can also benefit as they gain insight into the subject matter understanding of each participant and can adjust instruction accordingly based on feedback received through reflective discussion.

Fun and Motivation

Finally, such active learning experiences can be incredibly fun and motivating; participants often find themselves more engaged with the material when presented with an interactive task.

The combination of these benefits creates an invaluable educational and direct experience that is both enjoyable and beneficial. Now we’ve seen some of the benefits, let’s explore the types of experiential learning.

What are the types of experiential Learning

Experiential learning or learning in doing is a powerful tool for personal growth and development. But what are the different theories of experiential learning that can be used? There are several forms, each with its own unique impact on the learner.

Active Experimentation

This experiential learning style consists of direct participation in activities or tasks to gain new knowledge and understanding. Through this form of learning, individuals explore various situations to gain insight into how they think and behave. Active experimentation also provides opportunities to practice problem-solving skills, fail fast, and develop self-awareness and better decision-making abilities.

Vicarious Experience

With this method, learners observe others engaging in specific activities which gives them an opportunity to process information differently than if they were directly involved themselves. Vicarious experiences allow learners to understand concepts from another perspective by providing a more comprehensive view of the subject matter at hand.

Reflective Observation

During reflective observation, participants take time to reflect upon their observations and experiences with an open mind so that they can draw meaningful conclusions about their interactions with others and the environment around them.

Through this form of learning, individuals become aware of patterns within behaviour that may have gone unnoticed before, thus enabling them to make informed decisions moving forward.

These different elements of experiential learning can be combined, which can provide the power to unlock invaluable insights. This leads us nicely onto David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle

Learning is like a continuous journey: it involves exploration, contemplation, and growth. David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory or Cycle provides a framework for understanding the process of learning through experience. The cycle includes four stages:

Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle

1. Concrete experience - Experiencing/Exploring “Doing”

Concrete experience is the first stage in the cycle whereby an individual directly encounters or experiences a situation or event. Through this direct engagement, they gain knowledge and skills that are specific to that context.

2. Reflective observation - Sharing/Reflecting “What Happened?”

The second stage is reflective observation where individuals reflect on their experiences by thinking about what happened before making any decisions on how to approach similar situations in the future. They observe their environment carefully and evaluate their own behaviour within it.

Reflection skills are essential to experiential learning. Reflection encourages students to take ownership of their experiences, enabling them to think deeply about what they have learned. This helps them form meaningful connections between the knowledge gained during a lesson or experience and how it applies to real-world scenarios.

3. Abstract conceptualization - Processing/Analyzing “What’s Important?”

During abstract conceptualization individuals form theories and concepts from the data obtained from reflecting on their experiences which serve as guides for further action.

Critical thinking allows learners to examine an issue from multiple angles and develop creative solutions while considering different perspectives. Through practice and application of these skills, learners can become more self-aware and better equipped to manage challenges in any field.

4. Active experimentation - Application “Now What?”

Active experimentation then follows; here individuals take what they have learnt and put it into practice by engaging in new tasks related to their goals or objectives.

By repeating this cycle over time, people develop deeper understandings of themselves and the world around them.

John Dewey’s Experiential Learning Theory

John Dewey’s approach to experiential Learning is based on the idea that experience is a source of learning. Dewey believed that we learn through our experiences and this type of learning can be more meaningful than traditional methods such as lectures or textbooks. He argued that all knowledge was acquired through active engagement with an environment rather than by passively absorbing information from others. According to Dewey, learners should be actively involved in their own learning process, taking responsibility for their decisions and actions.

Dewey also suggested that learners need to reflect on their experiences to make sense of them and draw meaning from them. Reflection allows us to think critically about what has happened, consider different perspectives, and develop new understandings. This form of reflective thinking helps us apply knowledge gained through experience to similar situations in the future.

With his theory of experiential learning, Dewey provided an alternative way to look at education and how people acquire knowledge. His ideas laid the foundation for modern approaches to teaching which emphasize student-centered learning and active involvement in the classroom setting. Through this type of instruction, students can gain deeper insight into course material while developing valuable skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, and collaboration along the way.

What are the components of experiential learning

Metaphorically speaking, experiential learning is like the four legs of a chair. Each of the legs supports the others to keep the chair upright and balanced. In this analogy, these “legs” are represented by four components that work together to create a successful experience: Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation.

Concrete Experience is where meaning comes into play—it’s through direct participation that knowledge becomes meaningful and relevant. Experiences can take many forms such as simulations, role-playing activities, interviews with experts, or discussions with peers. Learners must actively engage to gain insight into new concepts while building on existing skills or ideas.

Of all the stages, reflection is arguably the most important component because it allows us to process our thoughts and feelings about an activity or event we have experienced. It’s essential for self-awareness and understanding how past experiences shape future actions. During reflection, learners will analyze their own emotions and thoughts as well as those of others around them; think critically about what they learned from the experience; determine if any changes need to be made; review relationships between activities and objectives; and assess overall success.

The final two components—Abstract Conceptualization and Active Experimentation—are used to apply newly acquired knowledge to tangible outcomes such as problem-solving or decision-making processes within real-world contexts. Abstract Conceptualization helps learners contextualize theoretical information so it can be applied practically whereas Active Experimentation aids in developing confidence when utilizing newfound skills across various situations.

Experiential learning is only effective when all four components come together harmoniously. Achieving this balance requires practice and dedication from both facilitators and participants alike.

What are some experiential learning examples

Learning to ride a bike is often provided as a quick example of experiential learning.

Experiential Learning | Simplayfi

The learner (typically a rather excited or nervous young child) is given an initial and minimal amount of coaching before finding themselves experiencing their first ride out. Each child’s first experience varies but will typically be followed by a period of reflection (how did it feel, what went wrong), some wise parental words such as “if you pedal faster, it is easier to balance”, followed by additional experimentation and repetition. Learning to drive a car or ride a horse would be two other everyday examples.

Starting out as an apprentice to be a professional carpenter would perhaps be an example of experiential learning in a more formal learning context, where the practical experience will be more formally reviewed, reflected upon with new concepts and theories shared that build up the apprentice’s conceptual understanding of what might work better next time. This cycle can continue until tasks are perfected.

Experiential learning simulations in business

A well-designed business simulation or serious business game provides an opportunity for employees to learn about the business they work in, key concepts within core business functions, how they are interconnected, and how their individual roles all impact business success. They are typically used to support business transformation, engagement, and adoption.

These simulations navigate complex real-world challenges through highly engaging gameplay. Supported by expert facilitation, participants draw on their own experience, coupled with industry best practices, to solve these business problems. Participants transform existing processes and systems in ways that can be applied in the workplace.

Usually, participants are tasked with running a business in a simulated environment based around realistic real-world scenarios. The experiential simulation provides a cycle of learning in an environment where participants can solve problems, identify solutions, and develop reusable real-world skills in a relatable, risk-free environment that creates an interactive and fun experience.

What are the advantages of simulation in business

Business simulations deliver high levels of value when integrated into cultural change programs and business and digital transformation initiatives. They serve as an innovative and powerful way of increasing awareness, driving engagement and adoption, enhancing knowledge retention, and promoting collaboration between employees at all levels.

Simulations are most effective in to driving business value and consumer experiences through collaborative team-building and problem-solving.

Specific advantages of using simulations in business include:

Replicating real-life experiences within a safe and engaging environment

Simulations should be designed to mirror relatable business challenges and provide participants with an experience that mimics the real-world journey from the current to future state vision.

Breaking down organizational silos

Simulations work best when they bring participants together to form cross-functional teams and enable them to collaboratively design integrated processes, systems, and ways of working that drive successful business outcomes.

Experience a complex transformational journey that parallels real-world challenges

True transformation is complex and hard! Simulations allow participants to experience a relatable, multi-stage journey giving them a 30,000ft view of the entire landscape and to experience how the future state could look and feel.

Generate excitement and engagement and produce demonstrable mindset changes

One of the best ways to secure buy-in is to engage stakeholders in the design process. Simulations enable participants to identify, develop, and implement business solutions in a safe environment. With a little guidance from a skilled facilitator, these light-bulb moments will align with best practices and the desired business outcomes.

Bridge the gap between best practice awareness and knowledge and its practical application

Through expert facilitation, participants will apply their existing knowledge and experience with new practices, concepts, and ways of working in a practical and measurable (quantitative and qualitative) way.

How to apply experiential learning

Active engagement is key when it comes to applying an experiential model. There are a few effective methods that can help ensure success.

Implementers should provide participants with clear expectations of what they need to do for the experience to be successful. This could include setting specific goals or objectives that can then be used to measure the result. Additionally, providing students with materials they may need ahead of time will give them an opportunity to prepare adequately before beginning their hands-on activities.

Implementers should strive to foster an environment or learning experience where collaboration and problem-solving are encouraged. Group projects and activities can be beneficial if each student is given a chance to contribute meaningfully. Additionally, allowing individuals autonomy over their own ideas can lead to more meaningful experiences since they have ownership over the decisions being made.

Implementers must also consider the challenges of implementation such as logistical issues or lack of resources—both financial and otherwise—which could impede progress.

By approaching these challenges thoughtfully, it’s possible to effectively implement transformative experiential learning opportunities that allow students to gain valuable real-world knowledge while having fun at the same time!

Experiential Learning In the workplace

Experiential learning in the workplace has become increasingly important as technology, globalization, and competition challenge organizations. I­t is a way to gain knowledge and skills through practical experience, rather than theoretical instruction or observation. It provides employees with opportunities to apply their existing skills while developing new ones in a meaningful context. This helps them develop confidence and competence in their roles and increases job satisfaction.

Organizations can support experiential learning by creating an environment that encourages experimentation, problem-solving, and collaboration. For example, they could implement team activities that foster cooperation among employees, or offer on-the-job training opportunities for staff members interested in deepening their expertise.

Experiential learning also enhances creativity and innovation within an organization by providing space for reflection and brainstorming solutions to problems. Not only does this stimulate creative thinking but it also allows individuals to build upon each other’s ideas and create something completely unique or unexpected. With these benefits, it becomes easier for employers to nurture employees’ growth while improving organizational outcomes overall.

Experiential Learning in the classroom

Time-honored though it may be traditional student teaching in the classroom can often feel like an exercise in futility. As such, experiential education offers a unique opportunity to engage with material by putting knowledge into practice – and experiencing the results first-hand.

In this context, experiential learning involves bringing real-world experiences into the classroom setting. This could include anything from hands-on activities or simulations related to course material to field trips that allow students to directly observe what they are studying. With these methods, instructors can create meaningful connections between abstract concepts and tangible applications.


Experiential learning has the power to transform our lives. With its focus on hands-on activities, it can help us gain knowledge that is critical for success.

By engaging with real-world problems and activities, experiential learning provides hands-on experiences that help develop new skills and knowledge related to any subject matter. It also encourages collaboration between peers as they work together towards accomplishing goals or tackling projects in teams. By participating in these sorts of activities, students become more reflective about their own actions while simultaneously developing problem-solving strategies that will benefit them well beyond the classroom walls.

Experiential learning allows people to gain meaningful insights into complex topics by involving themselves directly in the material being taught. Through it, they learn how to approach issues from multiple perspectives as they apply what they’ve learned to practical scenarios. As such, transitioning into how to implement this type of active engagement within an educational setting should come naturally through exploration and experimentation with different methods and approaches.

Overall, there are many advantages to using experiential learning as part of an educational program or personal development journey; it encourages creativity by allowing individuals to think outside the box while simultaneously teaching them important life lessons.

At Simplayfi we have over 15 years of experience supporting large complex organizations globally in leveraging experiential business simulations to engage their teams, drive cultural change and business transformation.

Email to book a 30-minute free consultation with one of our industry experts to discuss your specific challenges and explore potential business simulation solutions that may support your current initiatives.

Frequently Asked Questions

Experiential learning has a lot to offer in our day-to-day lives. It can provide us with an opportunity to gain new skills, develop existing ones and learn from real life experiences. By doing so, we can become better equipped to solve the problems that arise. For example, if we are presented with a difficult situation at work or home, experiential learning can help us come up with creative solutions.

Moreover, it is important to note that the experiential learning process also promotes self-awareness. As we engage in activities related to this type of learning, we become more aware of ourselves and how our thoughts and actions influence others around us. This kind of understanding helps us make better decisions in various situations and respond effectively when faced with challenges. Additionally, engaging in such tasks encourages personal growth as well as meaningful connections between individuals.

The most effective approach to teaching experiential learning is one that allows students to gain insights through hands-on experiences as well as intellectual reflection.

Rather than simply providing information for students to memorize, this style of teaching gives them the opportunity to explore their own ideas and make connections between different concepts. By engaging in activities such as role playing or simulations, they can understand real world applications of what they are being taught.

This form of instruction also encourages critical thinking skills, by allowing learners to draw conclusions from their observations and evaluate various scenarios without relying solely on facts and figures. It enables those involved to create deeper personal connections with the material at hand while developing problem solving abilities which will serve them long after leaving the session.

About Simplayfi

At Simplayfi, we have over 15 years of experience supporting large complex organizations globally in leveraging experiential business simulations to engage their teams and drive cultural change and business transformation.

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Email us to book a 30-minute free consultation with one of our industry experts to discuss your specific challenges and explore potential business simulation solutions that may support your current initiatives.

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