Experience-oriented learning (EOL)

How experiential learning, a.k.a. experience-oriented learning (EOL), influenced my work

Since my beginnings in the training sector, I have worked to make often dry subject matter more fun, more lively, and more comprehensible by using clear examples and a variety of exercises in my classes.

The first EOL workshop

In 2005 I attended a workshop on the topic of experience-orientated learning in Vienna. The entire morning we conducted one learning project after another and were taught how experience-oriented learning works. After lunch, we were given a communication task – using a tool called KommunikARTio – and after a few minutes, one participant said loudly and forcefully to another: ‘Be quiet already! You’ve been getting on my nerves all day!’ It was a highly emotional moment, and I decided to find out more about this method that generated such emotion in such a short period of time – and which thereby could potentially increase learning. This is a real benefit of experiential learning!

What is experiential learning? – A definition.

Modern results in brain research and neuro-didactics conclude that words alone constitute a very limited vehicle for learning. It is therefore necessary to include several of the senses or at times even the whole body. Engagement and emotion during a learning experience and reflection after the experience give rise to much potential. The art lies in awakening the responses and making them useful for practical application. As such, experience-oriented learning is the method of choice to enable these responses to move from the experiential learning process to a real-life transfer.

Learning experience with EOL

Before you get started, the assignment needs to be clear. Within the context of the training, the training needs analysis clarifies the desired results, the target group, the learning objectives, the practical applications, and the content. To convey this in an experience-oriented way, the following three steps are necessary: staging, performing, and attributing of meaning.

  1. 1. Staging is about creating a suitable isomorphism, i.e. aligning the learning project with the participants’ personal experiences so that they may react as authentically as possible during the learning project. This is accomplished by selecting the appropriate tools; planning roles, rules, and frameworks; and using the ‘cultural language’ of the group.
  2. 2. During the performance phase, the group should create autonomous solutions. It is desired that they ‘adequately fail’ – not give up completely but temporarily reach their limitations and thus also feel their emotions. During this phase the trainer steps back into the observer role, noting interesting process steps and standing ready to support by intervening.
  3. 3. At the point of attributing meaning, the trainer seeks to develop the content in collaboration with the participants, whereas previously content was defined as a goal in the training needs analysis. For example, depending on the requirements of the group, communication issues could involve an examination of clear communication, good listening skills, or the practice of giving meaningful feedback. If coaching is the topic, the coach’s role may be clarified. Whatever it may be, the goal of the third step is to design a practical application. Vital to this step are sound ideas suitable for daily life and the opportunity to practice them again. Only then will bridges into everyday life be built to help support a permanent implementation.

Short digression: This is strongly reminiscent of Kolb’s experiential learning model and learning cycle in which four steps are combined: concrete experience, observation and reflection, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation.

My temporary confusion with EOL training

During the training I was very confused because I knew that I could use all this brilliantly in a team development session, but I didn’t know how to apply it in training situations that dealt with project management, process management, and statistics.

I then started to use the soft skill tools to test the effect they produced.

An ‘aha!’ moment triggered by the method

Later, an experience during a training in Istanbul triggered a colossal ‘aha!’ moment. The subject was Lean Six Sigma and process improvement. Following lunch, I conducted the energizer exercise called ‘Tilting Chairs’: chairs are set up in a circle, the participants stand behind the chairs and tilt them backwards, and then have to walk around the whole circle without a chair falling.

After the successful execution of the exercise, one participant said to me – completely unplanned – ‘Anna, that’s like takt time’; another added, ‘and like standardization’.

I had a awaken moment and realized, Yes, exactly! I grabbed a flipchart and a pen and asked ‘What did it take here to introduce takt time or standardization?’ and got answers from the participants that stood for the very theory that I would otherwise have explained in a monologue.

Simply put, from an experience I derived the theory on the flipchart and at the same time fully involved the participants. Splendid!

The experience-oriented method and Metalog tools

EOL, the experiential learning approach, works within a wide range of topics and contexts in adult education as well as in work with children and young people in and outside of the classroom.

The Metalog® training tools work very well in this context. For me, PerspActive is a particular highlight because it is the only tool where nobody can permanently control the whole process. Someone takes responsibility at the beginning, but as soon as the tool is spun, somebody else has to take over responsibility. At the same time, they have to describe what they see and keep an eye on the goal and say, ‘Yes, that’s the right direction.’ This assumption of responsibility and leadership happens all the time with this tool.

Another favourite tool is KommunikARTio because it is perfect for all forms of communication: to clarify collaboration in virtual teams and to explain the meta-level. Don’t forget the EmotionCards – they should never be missing in any training!

But in addition to the use of these tools, the inherent, underlying method can also be carried out with very simple learning projects and with objects available in most every room: chairs for the ‘tilting chairs’ exercise and exercises that use moderation cards and flipchart pens, which often function as energizers and thus have high potential.

Experience-oriented learning has enriched my work

The participants are mentally, physically, and emotionally involved. Often unfamiliar with EOL at the beginning, learners quickly discern for themselves that they really get something out of it. The advantage of experiential learning is that the content is easier to retain and the practical application goes smoothly. But, come Monday morning, real change can only be gaged by what is done differently in everyday life.

For me as a trainer, EOL is an excellent method for living up to my responsibility. I create better conditions so that learning can be successful.

… and now I pass it on to others as well

I have been an EOL trainer since 2016 and offer seminars of 1 to 12 days for trainers, coaches, consultants, educators, personnel and organization developers, psychologists, therapists, and people interested in the concepts of experiential learning.

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