Jennifer D. Collins, CMP, is president and CEO of JDC Events, an award-winning event design company that strengthens brands and delivers impactful results. She is a sought-after industry speaker and internationally best-selling author of Events Spark Change: A Guide to Designing Powerful and Engaging Events.
When it comes to corporate training events, there’s a lot of talk these days about something known as experiential learning. So just what is it and what benefits does it offer corporations?
Experiential learning is a way for companies to help their team members gain real-world experience that they can transfer to their roles.
It’s about immersing them in an activity that can inspire them to think of ways to deliver results in their role with the company. The goal is to align with an experience that expands participants’ creativity while developing their skills and, ultimately, building a stronger team.
But, training today needs to be about more than a speaker at the front of a room talking through a slideshow presentation. That technique may be fine for part of a training event, but instead of telling employees new information, a better way to embed information for the long-term is to get people out of their chairs, on their feet and using their hands and minds.
Experiential learning events typically get team members out of the office for a few hours or a few days, and immerse them in situations in which they can create new memories and new sensations to draw on in their roles.
Often, those immersion activities involve some sort of interactive experience. More than a teambuilding ropes course, today’s experiential training events often take place in a similar industry, or even within the same industry.
For instance, call center employees may gain new insights into customer service by witnessing it firsthand in a hospitality-based business or by participating in an inspiration session or even training for employees that work at a help desk.
Making the experience memorable is more likely to help the information stick. When someone participates in an activity that speaks to them on both personal and professional levels, they are more likely to find ways to use the principles they learned.
A study by the University of Chicago found that college physics students learned a science subject more readily if a hands-on approach was used as the teaching method.
The study found that hands-on learning made the sensory and motor areas of the brain more active when the concepts being taught were recalled. In one example, participants in a study used spinning bicycle wheels to better understand angular momentum.
The goal, then, is to create an environment of self-discovery. An experiential learning event should not be designed to “tell” or necessarily even “show,” but to simply present information so that participants can make their own connections.
The idea is not to make the event just another mandatory meeting, but rather, make it a place where participants feel they can explore ideas, purpose and even emotions. They need to feel that they can get outside their comfort zone and connect, in some way, with their new environment, if only for the comparatively short time that the event takes place.
The key to a successful event is to design a program that will indulge the curious natures of participants. That begins by defining the goals of the experience at the onset of planning.
A discovery session can help surface ideas, from the problem that needs to be solved to the anticipated outcome of the event. For instance, if better customer service to improve sales is the goal, then how many new or repeat customers should be gained within a certain time frame after the event? Defining the end goal first can help identify the purpose of the event, which is then used as the framework for all subsequent decisions.
Next, identify trendsetters that already excel at what the training is planned to deliver. If building a team that better understands change management is the goal, then what other organizations or companies excel at that skill?
Gaining access to such an organization may require exceptional partnership-building skills on the part of the event planners. But even companies in the same or similar industries are often willing to participate in experiential learning, and the prospect of “seeing how the other guys do it” on its own is enough to get some participants excited.
Planning for the event should also include an idea session after the event. More than just sharing notes after the experience, the idea session should work to flesh out how the information gained can be applied on the job.
Gather inspirational thoughts from participants while their experiences are still top of mind, and then overlay those on the problem that needs to be solved.
Brainstorm using a whiteboard or other ideation tool, and then share the results with participants. As ideas begin to gel into workable steps, processes, policies and programs, track the measures to help determine not only return on investment, but also whether the expected results are realized — or even exceeded.
The results of any experiential learning event are best discovered down the road.
Performing an assessment six months after the event can help reveal whether learning has been implemented and improvements have been achieved. Successes should be shared with the team, and any new best practices being employed may also be used to strengthen other areas of the organization.
With baby boomers exiting the workplace and corporate offices filling up with inexperienced workers, there is an unprecedented shift taking place in the workforce. In today’s world, the skills and dedication of a team can make all the difference between success and failure, so keeping employees engaged and motivated is crucial.
Experiential events are an investment, just like any other professional development expense. But with a little forethought and good planning, the outcomes of an experiential learning event can mean a more efficient, productive, world-class team. C&IT