CL – Experiential Learning

Experiential Learning through observation by linking actions to their consequences is simple and probably a natural way to learn anything. We do it all the time.

Conceptually, the idea is simple to understand. A child puts his finger into a candle flame and immediately singes his finger and feels the heat. He learns never to put his finger into an open flame. He learns this because his action and the feedback (unintended consequence of the action — burning sensation) are very close by – almost instantaneous. However, with age he would also learn how to handle fire for useful purposes too.

If that is so, why people in industries and organizations have hard time learning? The reason appears to be obvious. Actions and feedback of consequences of the actions are separated by time and space challenging cognitive ability of a human being. Since the consequence of a person’s actions might appear after a long time and may appear at a different place it then becomes unlikely for a person to connect ‘actions’ to their ‘consequences’ to make meaning and learn from his/her actions in a holistic manner.

Can’t this simple yet effective method of Observation Based Experiential Learning experiences be designed & applied in industries and organizations?

Surely! The design would involve simulation of the job environment or engage people on an actual job where a skilled facilitator then links the consequences (either unintended or helpful) to the array of actions a learner is free to choose or employ. By linking the two (action and the consequences) learning takes place.

I would call this ‘talent development’. Undoubtedly, such talent development within an organization not only helps the person but also helps organizations improve the 3 fundamental Ps — Productivity, Performance and Profitability.

The video provides a demonstration of a successful Observation Based Experimental Learning experiment we designed for shop floor workers, which we found rather challenging.  The feedback of the consequences was given in their mother tongue (Bengali).

Needless to say that the learners were happy with the experience and so were their top bosses who initiated the program.

However, there seems to be three tricky issues in the design and implementation of such observation based experiential learning.

These are

1. The designer and the facilitator must be comfortable and attentive to handle the uncertainty that comes up in this process of self discovery.

2. The designer and the facilitator must have strong grounding in ‘Design Thinking’ and ‘Systems Thinking‘.

3. The facilitator must be well aware of the consequences of each action especially the unintended ones. That is a facilitator must be well versed with the possible ‘failure modes‘ of a system under study and must also know how to provide the proper feedback in a manner understood by learners.


CL stands for Creative Leadership




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