Experiential Learning in Schools – Is India Ready?

kids learning

Here’s this really interesting conversation I had with my 7 year old – One of his new year resolutions is to learn swimming. He feels lazy about it and given that he likes to read, he asked me a very pertinent question – why do I need to get into a pool to learn swimming, why can’t I just read about it and learn it? Very good question indeed, given that most of what he learns in the CBSE school he is a part of is by reading/ watching videos etc. To him, that’s the most logical format of ‘learning’.

This question got me thinking about whether we can change the learning path of children at very early ages to actually get them to learn most of the stuff that they learn by doing. At present, a bulk of the topics covered in schools and colleges are theoretical and consequently disengaging. Children are not made to sit passively in a chair for an hour and listen – no wonder attention span is low and retention is low. Memory experiments conducted by Ebbinghaus show that in this traditional approach, students forget approximately 50% of the content just in the first 40 minutes after learning. The figure shoots up to 70% within a day. Constant re-enforcements of the topics at home through assignments and home tuitions help but only in the short run.

Consider the alternative – a more engaging learn-by-doing approach in schools. There is no debating the merits of ‘learn-by-doing’ or ‘experiential learning’. In fact, we were born to learn through experiences and as kids, there is no other way we can learn. For example, a child might learn to be wary of touching a stove after burning her fingers on a hot plate that had been used recently. As we get older, our learning experiences become less ‘concrete’ and we do start to learn visually or through music or reading. However, the most deep-set format of learning remains experiential.

Then why do education systems not favour an experiential learning format? Firstly, the traditional system of education is definitely more ‘efficient’. More concepts can get covered in a shorter time frame with a larger set of students. Consider teaching the Newton’s laws – the traditional format teaches these through textbooks. Experiential learning of Newton’s Laws, for instance, is when the learner is given a ball and asked to roll it and experience it coming to a halt due to friction. This approach is far more interesting, engaging and proven to exhibit higher retention levels over traditional means of reading a textbook. However, while in the former method, a class of 50 students ‘learn’ the concept in 45 mins, in the latter method only about 10 students would ‘learn’ the method in 45 mins. In a country with abysmal student-teacher ratios and very limited schooling infrastructure, adopting the experiential learning format would be inefficient.

Another factor that makes experiential learning less practical is the fact that teachers in India are not trained to impart education in this fashion. Consider that ‘reflection’ and ‘feedback’ are the key to learning from experience because it consciously focuses our attention on what we have learnt and thus consolidates it. Further, understanding the general principle (‘generalisation’) that they experienced and ‘applying’ the same to new situations are higher order skills required to complete the experiential learning cycle. Are teachers today equipped to guide and facilitate a reflection and feedback session with students effectively? Can they create an atmosphere in the class that stimulates higher order thinking and application skills?

There is no denying that the future of education is a more experiential format. But there are many steps that the education system in India needs to take before we can adopt such a format. Till then, we will have to make do with what we have.


Experiential Learning – Highly Abused Word in Training?


All of us as L&D professionals have been exposed to a host of so-called experiential learning programs. Unfortunately, however, most of them are junk – they just add a layer of gamification to a traditional program and claim to be highly engaging.

What would truly break the clutter would be ‘immersive gamification’ which basically is about imparting experiential learning through business simulations. These simulations are compatible with both online and instructor driven formats and have a universal appeal for most age groups and industry types. What truly differentiates such programs?

Firstly, they are close to real life. The storyline of the game is rich with constraints and opportunities which the participant must be facing in real life. He is expected to deal with the same kind of stakeholders and emotions as in real life. This ensures that the participant relates the learning directly to his life and doubts about ‘What is in it for me’ are dispelled right away.

Secondly, these simulations are like a real game. The participant is playing the game in the first person mode; the progress of the game is based on the action taken by the individual, and this affects the outcome dynamically.

Thirdly, these simulations involve real-time decision making. During the simulation, a participant is expected to display his skill or knowledge by taking a decision at various points in time. His expertise is judged by the repercussions of the decision. Making the participant take real life decisions in a safe learning environment immediately drives the learning into the participant’s mind.

Finally, these simulations cause tangible behavioural change. Participants internalize learnings by applying them immediately and  the resulting behavioral changes are effectively retained as they are a part of an experience – not a course!

Every L&D professional must use these four principles to test the efficacy of any experiential program and only then invest the time, energy and effort of the learners in order to derive maximum output from the learning program.

The Criticality of Employee Development Planning


recent Gallup survey showed that lack of career advancement opportunities was the most common reason for employee leaving organizations, being cited by 32% of respondents. So if you want to motivate engage and develop your top performers you must engage in good quality career development, the basis of which is a properly executed employee development plan.

A nimble organization needs an approach to talent management that can be fluid and responsive. This level of organizational agility requires that employees be able to better themselves. Offering a sophisticated individual improvement process is one of the most effective ways to accomplish that.

Most individual improvement plans, however tend to have a  “fix-it” development approach which is rarely the most effective or efficient route to improvement. Discovering and curtailing weaknesses can work, but focusing exclusively on one’s shortcomings can be challenging and discouraging. It is important to also concentrate on the individual’s strengths and help him leverage those to his benefit in achieving organization goals and career success.

What is an employee development plan?

In general an Employee Development Plan can be a paper or electronic record which sets out the following:

  • an employee’s development needs,
  • the actions to be taken to address these needs (e.g. training)
  • when this action will occur,
  • and what support the employer must give,
  • And what action the employee must take.

There will be two elements to an employee development plan; these are ‘Personal’ and ‘Career’ development. The difference between the two is important to note. The Personal Development Plan: This looks at the employee’s weaknesses as identified in the review process in relation to their current job and seeks to address these weaknesses with training. The Career Development Plan: In larger companies this may be linked to the succession planning process. Typically, this plan looks to the future and looks to develop skills within employees which they will need to progress into a future leader or to simply advance and reach their career goals.

How to create these development plans?

Having communicated the areas for development to the employee in the review discussions, you can begin to address those weaknesses, item by item. You can do this by completing the development plan and the structure of the document should guide you through the development planning process. There are many variations of development plans available, but a good development plan must have the following 5 components.

  1. Area for developments
  2. Interventions, e.g. training
  3. Date when it will happen
  4. Manager’s actions
  5. Employee’s action.

Employees are bound to have a range of developmental needs and fortunately there are a range of developmental initiatives available to managers that can be applied to employees to help them develop skills. Some of the development initiatives which can be taken are as below :

  • Stretch Assignments; this is where employees are given projects, roles or assignments for a temporary period which push them out of their comfort zone, hopefully forcing them to acquire new skills.
  • They are very popular within the Fortune 500.
  • Job Rotation
  • Structured Training Courses
  • Self-Guided learning
  • Mentorship programs
  • Attending Conferences

Each development plan is likely to include more than one of these development activities.

Development plans are a core part of the management process as they can improve staff engagement and retention levels through the provision of opportunities for personal and career development and staff growth.