Our education needn’t end when we finish school or university but should be an enjoyable, fulfilling, lifelong process which gives us the skills we need to effectively communicate and collaborate with others, and use problem solving and critical thinking techniques to overcome issues or resolve conflict, while skills such as empathy and resilience ensure we are self-aware and mindful of others’ feelings and emotions.
Most of these soft skills aren’t taught in schools or universities but are learnt through experience and observation; within the workplace they are known as ‘experiential learning’ and are thought to be some of the most effective ways that we can learn, and retain, information.
Experiential learning forms the basis of many coaching and mentoring techniques which is why they are so successful within the workplace.
To gain the most benefit from our experiences it is worth looking at the key principles of learning and assessing how we can apply this knowledge to our own learning journey.
What is Learning?
Learning is the acquisition of knowledge, skills, modes of behaviour, attitudes or values through a process of study, personal experience, or through being taught.
Learning can involve mental processes such as, thought, but it is also linked to emotions, feelings, determination and morals. If we do not have the inclination or motivation to learn we often don’t absorb or retain the information – we must be able to see some value or personal benefit to our learning and be able to measure its successfulness in personal terms.
For instance, if we work as part of a multicultural team but have little awareness of cultural difference, it would benefit us to improve our cultural intelligence through a training course and we could personally measure its success through improved workplace relationships.
The Key Principles of Learning
As individuals, we may feel we learn best in different ways but there are also methods which can improve our learning which are similar for everyone.
For instance, long term learning generally occurs for everyone if the following points are observed:
• Our new skill or knowledge adds to existing abilities
• We can explain the process/technique/skill to others, in our own way
• We can use, strengthen and develop the new learning for our own purpose
• We have sufficient information to mentally, or physically, grasp the new skill/topic
When considering workplace-based learning, the following key principles of learning can be applied to individual learning, group learning, mentoring and coaching, or professional training courses:
• Respectful Learning
Treating all trainees with respect, and establishing a good base of ground rules concerning appropriate and acceptable behaviour towards others, is vital in ensuring an ideal learning environment for everyone. Learners who feel comfortable in their surroundings, and the people they are learning with, will have more confidence to participate fully in their educational journey.
• Positive Learning Experiences
Learning should be an enjoyable experience and when linked to positive opportunities, learners can absorb, interact, and contribute to the experience. Some learners may have had negative past experiences (linked to school, a certain teacher or subject) and may resist learning that reminds them of these past experiences so finding a setting that doesn’t resemble a classroom would be beneficial. In instances such as this, e-learning is particularly helpful as learners can work wherever they feel most comfortable.
• Self-directed Learning
Learners who are encouraged to have autonomy in their learning journey will almost always do better than those who feel pressured to complete training. Where possible, involve learners in their training; let them set their own goals, complete tasks at their own speed and evaluate their own success.
• Interactive Learning
Interactive learning sessions, be they classroom based or virtual, are key to learner success rates. Being able to ask a question, clarify a point, raise objections, interact with trainers and other participants can all encourage and engage learners.
• Varied Learning Style
We all absorb information best in different ways – some of us prefer to listen to lectures (taking copious notes), some prefer lively discussions and team activities, while others prefer ‘doing’ tasks such as problem solving, so ensuring training has a range of activities and processes that cater for varied learning styles is a good way to engage every learner.
• Reward-Based Learning
Technology has taught us the satisfaction that can be gained from instant rewards – the instantaneous ‘ping’ of social media engagement, emails, texts, and so on, keeps our brains engaged and wanting more. Training courses where learners can see immediate results and assess their personal achievements, encourage positive engagement. Courses should offer clear results and objectives, which are conveyed to learners from the outset, and highlight the rewards that can be achieved from a learner’s engagement.
• The Kolb Learning Cycle or PACT
One of the most prevalent theories of learning from experience was created by David Kolb (1984), who developed ideas from earlier models of experiential learning. This theory is based on a ‘learning cycle’ which includes Concrete Experience, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualisation and Active Experimentation.
A more recent take on this is the ‘PACT’ learning cycle which uses the following terms:
Procure – new knowledge or skill
Apply – this new skill is then utilised in some way
Consider – results are then assessed for their value
Transform – skill may be adapted or modified to suit the individual
This cycle is then repeated and continued while the learning process is ongoing, building upon each stage of learning as we gain new insights and experience.
At Creative Word Training we create our courses based around the key principles of learning found above, so you can be certain that, whichever course you select, it has been crafted for optimal engagement and results.