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Experiential learning definitions


I'm currently doing some research into training and learning styles in organisations. It seems that the term 'experiential learning' is used to cover a number of applications. I'd like to know how people define experiential learning in their own organisations, and how it's used, or if it's not used whether there are cultural or organisational reasons for this. Would really appreciate your views, thanks.
Steve Adlard

11 Responses

  1. Try Kolb
    The term ‘experiential learning’ is often attributed to Kolb. You will find a lot of information on the Internet if you serch for ‘kolb’.

  2. There are many models termed experiential learning cycles
    Try also Juch, Kelly (1955),Pfeiffer and JOnes (1983) and Mumford.

  3. Can we get more personal?
    Thanks so far for the comments on theories. Is it possible that people could comment on their own organisational experience and views, I’d be interested to hear those. Thanks. Steve

  4. Definitions
    Probably the best easy source of any definition in T&D is the Institute of Training & Occupational Learning (ITOL) booklet: ‘A Glossary of UK Training & Occupational Learning Terms’. (

    On the matter of experiential learning it is generally used to mean any learning from experience. However, it does sometimes get confused with Action Learning, activity based training and so on.
    For research purposes, Tom Pickles did an article on LearningWire. It and other info can be found at
    Lastly, how is it used? ‘Extensively’ is about the best answer I can offer. We embrace everything from incidental learning from life experiences to structured activities in training programmes. There are organisational cultural issues as to which approaches may or may not be immediately acceptable, but, if done well, it is possible to push out the boundaries to great effect.
    I have worked with organisations in public and private sector, large and small, and throughout the world. I have yet to find anywhere where experiential learning cannot work to great effect.
    Good luck with the research.

  5. experien – tial
    my understanding is that it is learning derived from experience – whether that be an experience we have already had or someone else’s; something similar… pulling out from one’s own resources … as we’ve usually experienced something similar if not exactly the same. Hope that is clear.

  6. experiential vs experience based
    The true definition of experiential learning is something along the lines of “learning from experience”.

    My understanding, however, is that when used with training, it is one of many terms to describe training using activities as the medium. Other terms may include the word “adventure”.

    Activities can range from a ropes course or rock climbing to classroom activities. Usually in a corporate setting the activities are small scale and can be performed in a classroom.

    My company has been known to use these techniques somewhat but usually it would be the trainer that incorporates them into a larger curricula. At one time we had an internal mediation department that used experiential training extensively but with budget cuts, it’s hard to see the return on investment.

    I hope this helps.

  7. expeiential learning definition
    Experiential learning has so many definitions,maybe another way to look at it is to establish what it is not!
    A good discussion on definitions is in Making Sense of experiential learning OU press the chapter by Henry (89)
    Tina Cook

  8. experiential learning definition
    For me, experiential learning is “learning by doing with reflection”. The reflection is the key part that is often missed. Without reflection learning is left to chance. The reflection piece (Kolb’s learning cycle is great for this) is where you begin to get transfer of learning.

  9. Experiential learning is what we do every day.
    Everthing that we think and feel today comes from the experiences that we have had until now.
    That experiential learning is the thing that shapes our behaviour.
    It is something that we learn for ourselves as a result of historical experience, as opposed to being taught.
    It becomes our experience which shapes our future decisions or actions.

    If we experience pain from contact with heat our experiential learning makes us avoid heat in the future.

    This is a very powerful type of learning

    To provide experiential learning for others we have to provide the environment from which they will then take the lessons.
    By learning for themselves the lessons are powerful and sustained.

  10. The creator of the experience is important
    I was drawn back to this old thread by a google search, and felt I’d like to add a comment and see if anyone responds.

    The learner has to feel like they created the experience. So, when trainers provide experiences where the outcome is pretty much inescapable to “prove a point” this, in my view, is not experiential learning and can backfire badly.

    We have to provide tasks, and experiences where there are genuine choices that can be reasonably made so that learners really believe they created the outcome.

    Also, the learner has to see the connection between the experience, their learning, and their future benefit.

    Designing good learning experiences is not that straightforward, and more sophisticated than it might first appear.

  11. Missing the experiential learning point?
    Hi Mike
    Yes the learner needs to feel a connection for it to be most effective.

    Unfortunately much of the use of the term experiential learning has been diluted from the original (Reg Revens )work

    I’m interested to see what other have to contribute to this, some 5 years after the original posting!


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