Spark Learning with Experiences

Leaders often assume the role of coaches and educators as they encourage change and development in their teams. Those who use Experiential Learning will be far more successful in the long run than those who simply dictate or lecture.

Encouraging team members to connect with their own experiences is central to the success of Experiential Learning. Remember that it is not the experience itself that triggers learning, but actually paying attention to the experience in a particular way rather than simply going through the motions. Leaders will want to interrupt the normal flow of experience in their teams, such as when they are “stuck” with a challenge or “struck” by the dissonance of something outside their usual experience.

How can leaders use experiences to spark effective learning? Try to create incongruity using a contrast or contradiction that challenges existing knowledge.

Here are some examples:

  • Switch between figure and ground. For example, switch from focus on outcome to focus on process.
  • Reconcile two opposing poles. For example, consider the impact of reflecting and acting, and determine if only one is being used.
  • Search for contradictions and opposites. For example, consider if dealing with a problem with one solution or a dilemma that needs to be managed.
  • Identify and examine pre-existing expectations and underlying beliefs. Consider what are the assumptions behind the decision?

Leaders can help team members translate their individual experiences into organizational learning. In his book, Organizational Resilience, D. C. Kayes states,

“Individual experience…sets the stage for learning across the organization, including the individual, team and system levels of interaction…When individuals in organizations are open to new experiences, reflect on successes and failures, update their perspective and take calculated risks and experiment, they learn. Organizations that cultivate learning from experience build organizational resilience.”