How Can L&D Support Full-Cycle Experiential Learning in the Workplace?

While there has been a sharp increase in awareness around the need for greater focus on experiential learning in the workplace, exactly how it happens—and how it is best supported—is an ongoing question. 
Yet there’s one thing we must first address: the term experiential learning has been used often in recent years, and somewhat inconsistently. While many use it to describe only the type of learning that comes from ‘hands-on’ experience, the way I use it here is more in line with Kolb and Experiential Learning Theory. 
That is, experiential learning is a holistic view of the learning process that not only includes learning from direct experience, but also from social interactions, formal learning events and informational resources.
I’ll highlight this difference in usage by referring to this as full-cycle experiential learning. The ‘cycle’ referring to Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle:
Kolb's Experiential Learning Cycle
As discussed in more detail in this post, each quadrant in this cycle represents a unique set of skills and activities that help to propel us forward and keep us learning. We have re-conceptualized Kolb’s original “learning styles” here as the 4 AVID Learner Personas™ to help make this framework more accessible and give us license to play with it a bit:
The AVID Learning Personas™ and the Experiential Learning Cycle
This cycle is happening naturally for each of us each day. In fact, there are many of these cycles happening simultaneously for different tasks/challenges and on different levels: projects (or iterations/sprints), individual skills, specific time periods (session/day/week/month/year), and conscious decisions (from the very big to the very small).  
Each follows a basic pattern, though our attention may come to it at any point in the cycle: 
Reflecting on experience, sensing problems/tensions and imagining possibilities (Visionary)
Analyzing the gap between current reality and perceived possible alternatives, considering/researching potential solutions to close the gap (Investigator).
Deciding on a course of action, setting goals and making a plan (Designer). 
Executing the plan of action (Actionist). 
Reflecting on experience, and so on… 
Supporting Full-Cycle Learning 
As L&D practitioners, how can we support our teams to skillfully move through this cycle and keep learning, improving, adapting and growing as the world turns? 
As mentioned, there are specific skills associated with each of the 4 AVID Learner Personas that we can focus on supporting our teams to develop. While I call them experiential learning skills, really they are the foundational skills we need to work skillfully in the modern world. After all, work (and life) is an ongoing learning experience. 
The development of some of these skills can be supported, at least in part, by targeted content—however, these are skills that are largely developed through the full cycle. We need to be focused on building systems that support ongoing deliberate practice as our teams continuously learn around the cycle. 
An important part of this is supporting our learners to become more aware of their own individual patterns and preferences when it comes to these Personas and the learning cycle. As I wrote about last week, there are certain places in the cycle we tend to get stuck. This has a lot to do with existing gaps in our experiential learning skillset—with increased awareness, individuals can pinpoint which skills they need to focus on to break out of the traps where they are getting stuck. 
Finally, as each of the AVID Learner Personas has unique needs, the way L&D can best support individuals while operating within that “mode” is different. We’ll explore this briefly here, and in more depth in future posts. 
Supporting Individuals in Actionist Mode
  • Creating job aids or performance support resources 
  • Addressing performance gaps caused by lack of motivation (incentives, personal issues, etc.)
  • Facilitating collaborative or mentoring relationships
  • Developing new ways of working 
  • Developing Actionist skills (time/task management, communication, leadership, etc.)
Supporting Individuals in Visionary Mode
  • Facilitating exploratory dialogue 
  • Creating spaces/prompts for reflecting and sensing tensions/opportunities 
  • Facilitating sessions focused on imagining possible futures 
  • Coaching (asking questions focused on sensing and reflecting/imagining) 
  • Developing Visionary skills (sensing tensions, imagining possibilities, connecting to core values, etc.) 
Supporting Individuals in Investigator Mode
  • Creating formal training events (digital/classroom/blended)
  • Curating content 
  • Facilitating interactions between learners and experts
  • Developing informational resources
  • Developing Investigator skills (research/study skills, critical thinking, metacognition, media literacy, etc.)
Supporting Individuals in Designer Mode
  • Coaching (focused on goal setting and identification of clear next steps) 
  • Facilitating creation of Personal Learning Plans (providing templates, guidelines, examples, etc.)
  • Developing Designer skills (decision-making, goal setting, planning, designing experiments, prototyping, etc.) 
While this list is not exhaustive, it does begin to give us a clear overview of the different types of interventions we can make as L&D practitioners, and provides some context for when each are relevant and useful. 
We can use this to identify gaps in our current systems/practices: as our learners move through the cycle, where do they lack support from the organization? 
With increased awareness, we can best direct attention and resources to intervene strategically and support our teams and team members to push through the cycle and keep evolving. 

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Tom Palmer