Four “Must Ask” Questions for Designing Effective, Experiential Learning Programs

In my last blog we described how “Experiential Learning is making a come-back”, by addressing the following  business needs”:

  • Reskill or upskill our workforce confronted with new challenges
  • Efficient, engaging learning solutions with the least possible impact on employees’ productivity
  • Collect and analyze new data points from our learners, not only learning data but also talent and performance data

In order to address these business needs and move the needle of performance with measurable results, we need to design Experiential Learning programs that maximize learning transfer. Below are four “must-ask” questions that can make or break the effectiveness of our Experiential Learning solutions:

1. Do our learners understand the importance of the program on the organization’s bottom-line? What are their rewards or incentives for applying what they’ve learned?

It’s about “Understanding First” the business challenges we’re addressing, then conveying its importance to our learners and their supervisors:

  • How does their individual performance affect the business bottom line?
  • What are the consequences of poor performance?
  • How will the Experiential Learning program help them develop their skill sets?
  • Are incentives in place to reward outstanding performance?

Armed with this understanding of the business context, learners will be more likely to retain and recall when confronted with difficulties.

2. What are the new types of practice opportunities that will maximize learning transfer?

In the post-COVID world, a successful program is not about delivering a training session with participants enjoying donuts while the instructor gets them to digest content-rich slides. Rather, it’s about stepping away from the formal training structure and facilitating opportunities to learn and practice. As these practice opportunities engage learners by applying new concepts, they also enable the Learning & Development team to verify employees have the right tools and supervisors to perform their job.
A well-designed Experiential Learning program delivered to remote employees include practice activities such as:

  • Simulations and case studies as safe-practice opportunities
  • Guided practice and rehearsals with a coach or peers providing feedback
  • A gradual path from easy to more difficult exercises
  • Actual work projects conducted as the capstone of the Experiential Learning program

In addition to engaging learners and maximizing retention, these type of activities make Experiential Learning a cost-efficient way to learn as it blurs the boundaries between hands-on learning, practical application, and actual work.

3. How do you prioritize which work tasks to practice?

Should all work tasks be covered during training with an opportunity to practice? Not necessarily. Experiential Learning programs designed for efficiency and effectiveness focus their practice opportunities on the most Difficult, the most Important, and most the Frequent work tasks (the so-called DIF criteria – Please contact us for examples and case studies). Over the years, RPS team has developed an efficient ”Architect” methodology to deconstruct work tasks, analyze their components with the DIF-criteria, and reconstruct them into a new Experiential Learning journey. And part of this journey includes supervisors’ or structured feedback as the most potent learning factors to correct misconceptions and mistakes.1

4. How well is the Experiential Learning program distributed over time?

Learning is a gradual process, not a one-off event. Unlike formal training, Experiential Learning programs start with easy practice and gradually increase to more difficult practice opportunities. Ultimately, they engage learners, asking them to apply new concepts on actual work projects.

engagement graphic

Why can’t we concentrate all experiences over a few days? Remember when you learned to ride a bike, how to ski, or how to drive. Spacing activities out improves future memory retrieval. This is accomplished with the repetitions of content and practice opportunities. A study published by Jeffrey Karpicke and Janell Blunt from the Purdue University2 found that Retrieval Practice improved retention by 150% when compared to Elaborative Studying.

What’s even more interesting is this same study found that students were largely unable to predict this benefit. Again, this stresses how crucial it is to explain the importance of the program to our learners and engaging them throughout the learning journey.


Retrieval Practice improved retention by 150% when compared to Elaborative Studying

Experiential Learning “COVID-Edition”

Experiential Learning programs actively engage employees in a structured blend of micro-learning, assessments, polls, and practice. They lead learners through a series of remote, but hands-on activities to learn new concepts, apply them in their workplace (in the office or at home), share what they learned, and earn rewards with each new learning experience.

But Experiential Learning is not the answer to all training challenges. In the Bloom’s taxonomy of learning objectives, Remembering and Understanding are concepts that can be covered with a well-designed Interactive Design Document, short micro-learning, or an Interactive Video. Experiential Learning programs are most applicable to address critical skill gaps, reskill, or upskill employees whenever the work tasks to be trained are Difficult, Important, and Frequent (DIF Criteria).

Measurable Results

“I really think this training achieved a new level of Excellence …. After 23 years, I have never had a training that prepared me so well to face a customer. The three month journey provided me with on-going feedback, the ability to retain knowledge and to practice.”

This quote is from a learner going through an Experiential Learning program designed and deployed by RPS team in Mexico. Overall, feedback from more than 1,000 learners going through that EL journey were outstanding:

  • 95% rated the content as relevant;
  • 96% found Experiential Learning as high impact;
  • 99% would like to use it again.

For our customer, this learning journey also resulted in 25% more learners engaged and four times more learning experiences, when compared to traditional formal training. The Experiential Learning program just earned three 2020 Brandon-Hall Awards for Best Unique/Innovative Learning and Development Program, and is listed as a finalist for the upcoming 2020 Chief Learning Officers Excellence Awards.

As we all start drafting our learning strategies for 2021, we’ll need to adjust to the “new normal” and listen to the needs of our remote workforce. If you’re looking for innovation and best results in learning, make sure you select the right partner who can share their experiences in designing and deploying effective Experiential Learning solutions. Contact RPS today and we can help you plan and execute new, innovative learning approaches that achieve measurable results.

Reach Out to RPS

Experiential Learning strategies, assessments, and performance benchmarks of your learning strategies: how do you use these approaches to shift your learning to the “New Normal?”

Contact us RPS’ learning and performance experts today. You can also visit us at to learn more.

Have you tried Experiential Learning solutions? What was your experience? Start a conversation in the comments below or connect with us on LinkedIn, or at @RaytheonRPS using hashtags, #learning, #training, #ExperientialLearning, and #digitallearning.


1 Piet Van den Bossche, Mien Segers and Niekie Jansen (2010.) Transfer of training: the role of feedback in supportive social networks, Blackwell PublishingLtd.

2 Jeffrey D. Karpicke, Janell R. Blunt (11 February 2011.) Retrieval Practice Produces More Learning than Elaborative Studying with Concept Mapping, Purdue University.