Tip #814: 7 Design Principles for Experiential Learning

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.

 We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.”  John Dewey

There are 7 design principles for experiential learning, according to Megan Underwood, who is the VP Canada and Manager of Learning Design at Practera. She begins by defining experiential learning as learning by doing or learning by having an experience. She then delineates her 7 principles:

Principle #1: Design Backwards. Determine what we want the participants to be able to demonstrate or accomplish by the end of the training. Then decide how to get them to demonstrate that they can do that. [Note: This is why I emphasize the importance of learning activities that both help the participants to learn and to demonstrate their learning during the training program.]

Principle #2:  As Many Loops as Possible (AMLAP). Incorporate feedback or experiential learning loops so participants go through the experience, receive feedback, reflect on the feedback, recalibrate what they need to do in order to improve, and then do it again.

Principle #3:  Feedback is King. Feedback is necessary so participants can know if they’re doing something correctly or incorrectly and what they can improve. It is important that the feedback is as immediate as possible for it to be useful.

Principle #4:  Structure is Powerful. Create a defined experience with defined outcomes. Structure ensures that the participants practice new learning, get feedback, and have time to reflect. Structure also involves having the learning experience bookended, with expectations set by the participants’ supervisors pre-session and coaching and mentoring post-session to reinforce the learning.

Principle #5:  Reflection Drives Learning.  Reflection should be incorporated throughout the learning experience, to boost the participants’ confidence and resilience. Being able to reflect makes the participants better learners.

Principle #6:  Content is Supportive. “Content will never be the [primary] focus of experiential learning and it should never be because experiential learning is about the application of their skills and knowledge. The content is a supportive piece that fills those little gaps in the theory or the knowledge that your learner has…”

“We can have very little content or almost no content by defining expectations, defining behaviours that we want them to perform on a regular basis, and then measuring and monitoring those things. We can do that without having any eLearning or any in-class, and we can still drive change.”

Principle #7:  Make Constant Improvements.  Continually learn from the programs, the data from those programs and from the participants themselves, then revise the training program to best meet the participants’ needs.

One of the most important principles, from my standpoint, is the idea that experiential learning is about the behavioral changes we want our participants to demonstrate at the end of the training program. The learning activities are what drives the content, and not vice versa.

What do you think?

May your learning be sweet.


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