Call the Sheriff! Corporate Training Rip-off Exposed: A Call for Increased Experiential Learning
I have spent 30 plus years leading organizations at the Senior Team Level. Most recently I had a 15-year run as CEO of an organization with more than 800 team members in the Midwest. I personally approved large and small training budgets over those years. I was always one to skew toward spending and investing more in the people through training than historically was done at any of the organizations where I worked. However, one thing that became very clear to me was the fact that the type of training being done was critical to achieving the Return on Investment that my shareholders demanded. That type of training was experiential in nature. After exiting the Corporate Executive world I started a company that is primarily focused on creating a more productive workforce utilizing Experiential Learning. Numerous people have asked me what Experiential Training or Learning is? My short non-scientific answer is to say it is the training that gets “us” out of our head and into our heart. However, the purpose of this article is to dive a little deeper into answering that question, “What is Experiential Learning?”
The majority of corporate training is done in a classroom or similar style environment. Employers spend billions of dollars on this type of training each year. Apparently, few who are responsible for approving these expenditures have paused to look at the research for the value created in this type of learning. The research has been around for a while and has been updated many times and validated by credible institutions. In fact, more than 100 years ago, Hermann Ebbinghaus came up with the learning curve; this describes the relationship between memory and time. It basically says during a lecture that the absorption rate is at 100% on that day, then there is a 50-80% loss of learning from the 2nd day onward, and then the retention rate at the end of 30 days is in the 2-3% range. I’m sure that if Mr. Ebbinghaus had known about the 140-character limitation of Twitter, and the shrinking attention span today, he would have said this is even more of an issue now.
The answer to this quandary is to make the learning experiential. Neuroscience shows us that when the emotional circuits within our brain are activated then we are prompted to notice things around us in addition to what is going on inside us. If the training begins and ends in your head then a leader would never engage these emotional circuits. Experiential Learning activates these circuits by creating experiences that cause our intentional mind to be more engaged and then to make conscious decisions about our behavior. Once they are activated the training turns to reflection on what was learned during the exercise/experience. This is where the true magic happens and creates changed habits and mindsets.
Experiential Learning, when done in the context spoken of here, follows a process through which a learner constructs knowledge, skill, and value from the direct experience. This is reinforced through reflection, which allows the learner to connect theory and practice. This connection then provides a portal to applying the learning(s) to their work.
I hope this article resonates with you and causes you to take a very close look at where your training dollars are going and whether or not they are being used wisely. Experiential Learning can easily be experimented within your organization and then compared to the typical classroom/seminar environment.