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The Benefits of Experiential Learning in the Workplace
As soon as you become permanently employed after completing your secondary or tertiary qualification, you usually realise that your education hasn’t ended yet. Learning is, indeed, a lifelong process.
So, what’s the principle behind formalised experiential learning based on? It’s actually quite simple: learning through experience. If this is your first run-in with the concept, think about if you have ever heard sayings like ‘it’s best to learn on the job’. This is experiential learning in a nutshell and is, actually, quite true! How do we learn on the job, then? It goes like this:
When you begin to gather information in a new environment, your mind is already primed to establish mental frameworks within which to organise all newly acquired information (which you’ll be receiving while on the job). As the knowledge about the practical application of whatever work-related information you’ll be receiving is novel (whether you have prior knowledge, or not), you become exposed to incomprehensible input. Just like learning a language, the best way to learn is to gain exposure to sounds that you do not recognise, and to gather their meanings after. So, basically, you’ll be storing new information that you don’t yet understand within your mind for later use.
How does experiential knowledge tie into this concept? As you progress in a knowledge gathering process, you gain a better understanding of how different parts of incomprehensible input that you’ve stored away in your memory begin to fit together of like a puzzle. When you then understand an idea fully, it generally speaks of an integration between the different parts of new information that you stored. As one area of incomprehensible input gathers more dimensions (as your understanding grows), this becomes acquired knowledge and can ultimately be left for your working memory to deal with. The continual exposure to new information (that you’ll gain when finding yourself in a new workplace, for example) then becomes the perfect learning environment.
Practical, experiential learning’s effectiveness is furthered by the goal-oriented environment of the workplace. When learning something, in theory, your goal would generally be to understand a concept well and to store it away as acquired knowledge. Differently, when you’re trying to learn something at work, for example, your goal is much more effectual – you’re acquiring knowledge to apply it in an immediate task to create an outcome that you are responsible for. Simply put, theory becomes practice!
So, next when you’re struggling to fully understand a difficult concept, try thinking of how this abstract idea can be put into practice – if nothing comes up, do some research. This’ll certainly aid your learning and help you integrate new information.