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Experiential Training

Experiential Training

Does your organization train employees the same way year after year? Do eyes roll when you announce another mandatory training class? Do your employees scatter like rats when released from the training room for a break?

If you answered yes to these questions, your organization might be ripe for something new: experiential training.

What Does It Mean?

The term "experiential" denotes a method used to train employees, not a type of training, notes Megan McDonough, president of both Megan R. McDonough Company of Hardwick, Massachusetts, and the Central Massachusetts Chapter of the American Society of Training and Development. "Experiential training is learning by doing, which causes an inner click -- an 'a-ha' moment," she explains.

More Than Outward Bound

When you mention the words "experiential learning," many people first think of Outward Bound, the oldest, largest and most recognized wilderness education organization in the world. Participants in the Outward Bound program learn by doing the unfamiliar, the difficult and the adventurous. But you don't have to swing through trees to put some adventure into your training programs.

You can keep things simple by adding a small experiential component to your current program. For example, if you are teaching repair professionals how to fix a piece of equipment, include a hands-on segment where participants take the equipment apart and put it back together.

Spice Up Your Training

David "Tree" Krell, president of Santa Fe-based Cookin' Up Change, believes learning should be fun. The theory behind adult learning is that experience is key to assimilating knowledge. What better way to get hands-on experience than in the kitchen? Imagine the look of surprise on your employees' faces when they open their training workbooks to find food recipes.

Team cooking is one of Cookin' Up Change's specialties. Through prep work and cooking, participants learn planning, communication, change management (the instructor introduces the changes), effective use of resources and celebrating accomplishments -- all while preparing a meal together. Participants never leave hungry, and are ravenous for more knowledge.

No Talking Heads Here

Valerie Davisson, senior director of worldwide staffing for Tricon Global Restaurants in Louisville, advocates experiential training. "Engaging the hearts, hands and minds of individuals isn't done with an overhead projector," Davisson says. "Everyone is usually working from the same foundation, and the barriers of experience and hierarchy are eliminated."

American Honda Motor Company in Torrance, California, has been using experiential training for some time. Mike Berdine, the company's manager of warranty and information technology, believes in the method after participating in outdoor courses, scavenger hunts and cooking classes.

Berdine acknowledges that these courses can be a bit expensive, since they are usually conducted off-site and may last several days. But he prefers this method of training to the talking-head classroom style. "Experiential training pushes the comfort envelopes of participants, making the material more memorable," he says.

The skills acquired can be easily integrated back into the organization, since team building and open communication are critical success factors in any organization.

Back to Basics

Before tossing aside your pens for whisks, conduct a training needs assessment to identify gaps between current skill sets and needed skills in your organization. Then determine if experiential training is the best approach to foster this skill development.

When selecting a vendor, consider the following:

  • The vendor's background in experiential education and traditional training methods.
  • The approach to transferring knowledge gained in training to the workplace.
  • Access to local training facilities.
  • References.

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