16/06/2015

By Gerard Crowley, co-director of Team Challenge Company


The effectiveness of learning through experience is not new – back in the 4th Century Chinese philosopher Confucius is attributed as saying: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.”

I have been involved in team training events and workshops for many years and recently I’ve seen a real increase in demand for experiential learning. This trend is unsurprising given the impressive stats available from the likes of National Training Laboratories (USA), which show 75% of what we do we remember compared with just 5% of what we hear.

Over the years there have been many academic papers published on the subject, including those by the popular 20th century educational reformer John Dewey, who believed students learn best through hands-on activities. Later, David Kolb – a renowned educational theorist - outlined what he believed are the four stages of experiential learning; activity and practice, review and reflections, theories and concepts, applications and case studies.

Across the pond there are reports that an increasing number of American colleges and universities are embracing experiential learning and promoting personalised instruction. Meanwhile in the UK, despite the available evidence and increasing demand, still too many businesses are sticking to the same old tired formulas of lectures, videos or staff handbooks to train their staff and are surprised when behaviours aren’t changed.

To get the best results and continuous learning, teams need to feel free to identity and pursue their own goals, self-evaluate and essentially learn to teach themselves.

This year, I had a very personal lesson in the effectiveness of experiential learning when I was part of a team which completed a 120km charity trek across the Arctic enduring temperatures of minus 30, snow storms and an ice quake. For months before the 10 day trek we learned the skills needed by doing them repeatedly until they became automated. By rehearsing the simple things over and over again, such as practicing walking with a 35Kg sled for up to 4 hours a day, it meant we could rely on muscle memory when mentally the going got really tough. Our preparation of learning by doing rather than listening to lectures or reading theory, was a major factor in our success as well as allowing us to enjoy the event to the fullest.