Experiential learning


author: Matic Matjašič

Experiential learning, also known as experiential learning, is the process of learning through direct life experiences, instead of or in addition to traditional learning from books or lectures. This method of learning is based on the idea that the best understanding of a topic or concept is gained through practice and personal experience. 

Experiential learning is a method developed by David Kolb based on the idea that knowledge is acquired through personal and environmental experiences. This approach has four stages: concrete experience, reflective observation, abstract conceptualization, and active experimentation. Each stage is important and is an integral part of the continuous learning cycle. 

Imagine a practical example in a work environment:

  1. Concrete experience: A group of employees attends a team-building workshop where they must work together to solve a specific problem. This workshop is their concrete experience. 
  1. Reflective observation: After the workshop, employees reflect on their experiences. They may wonder how they felt during the activity, what strategies worked and what didn't. 
  1. Abstract conceptualization: Based on their reflection, employees formulate new ideas or strategies. They may find that better communication tactics would improve their cooperation. 
  1. Active experimentation: Employees then test these new strategies in practice, perhaps in another group project or in their day-to-day work. 

This cycle then repeats itself as employees continue to experience new experiences, reflect, form new ideas and experiment with them. 

The advantage of experiential learning is that it combines theory and practice and emphasizes the importance of reflection and feedback. This method can help individuals, groups and entire organizations improve their learning process, which can be useful in a variety of settings, including the work environment. Experiential learning also advocates that participants must critically evaluate and analyze their experiences in order to gain a deeper understanding. 

Why is experiential learning important?

Experiential learning is a key part of a holistic learning philosophy that considers not only content, but also context. It involves more than just intellectual ability (IQ); recognizes the importance of emotional intelligence (EQ), social interaction and cultural background as key factors influencing learning outcomes. This approach thus focuses not only on the acquisition of knowledge, but also on the development of various skills and competencies that are key to effectiveness in the workplace - from creating a pleasant working environment to cooperation in a team. 

Experiential learning enables adaptation to the needs of different individuals. This means that the experiences we gain through this type of learning are tailored to our individual needs and characteristics. 

But why is this important for working people, not just pupils or students? Experiential learning allows us to learn informally and continuously, which means that learning does not end with an exam or a formal educational event, but becomes part of our everyday life. It allows us to better connect with our personal and professional goals, such as career development or personal skills. 

The argument for experiential learning is simple: humans remember only a small part of what we hear, but most of what we actively do. Whether it's discussing a specific topic, applying concepts to real-world situations, or learning from colleagues, personal involvement is key. Learning is seen as the result of practical, personal and thoughtful life experience. According to experiential learning, real learning happens when we face different situations and experience problems firsthand. Experiential learning turns us into actors, which significantly improves our ability to absorb knowledge. 

We can conclude that experiential learning is an essential tool for acquiring and using knowledge that is directly applicable and transferable to our everyday life, including the workplace. With it, we not only learn new concepts, but through direct experience we develop skills and competences that are key to our efficiency and success. 

Experiential learning in organizations

In today's world where highly skilled workers are in short supply, on-the-job experiential learning is becoming the new norm when it comes to employee training. But what are the main benefits of experiential learning in the workplace? 

At least four main advantages of experiential learning in the workplace can be highlighted: 

  1. Develops employees' ability to adapt to new situations: Employees who learn in the flow of work can be more flexible and adapt to new situations more easily. Experiential learners are more successful in applying all aspects of their learning – practical, personal and professional. 
  1. Bridging theory and practice: Experiential learning is that sweet spot where you can practice the theory you've mastered. The best companies know how to balance their approach to teaching so that the hands-on learning process can begin quickly after the acquired knowledge. 
  1. Provides a safe environment for mistakes: Experiential learning that uses simulations (e.g. in the form of workshops) allows employees to experience failure safely.  
  1. Delivers exceptional return on investment: Experiential learning in the workplace allows employees to learn during their normal work process. This means less time away from the office at conferences or in the boardroom. While these two training options have their place, in most cases learning on the job is more profitable. 

Teamwork is prevalent in modern organizations, which emphasizes the importance of team learning – the ability of individual team members to learn team skills, and the ability of the entire team to develop the necessary “executive awareness” to self-organize and manage its work process. 

However, teamwork also has pitfalls such as social laziness, conformity, excessive dependence on a dominant leader, excessive commitment to goals, and dispersion of responsibilities. These negative factors can be overcome and team performance can be improved if teams focus on learning. 

Conclusion: Experiential learning is like a path to personal and professional growth

Experiential learning, developed from David Kolb's theory, is a proven effective approach to learning that can enhance an individual's personal and professional growth. It allows us to acquire knowledge through personal experience, reflection, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. This continuous cycle of learning enables the acquisition of knowledge that is directly applicable and transferable in everyday life. 

It is important to emphasize that experiential learning is not limited only to educational institutions. In today's fast-changing world, experiential learning is key to success in the workplace. It allows employees to adapt to new situations, effectively connects theory with practice, provides a safe environment for learning from mistakes, and enables accurate assessment of skills. 

Organizations that implement experiential learning can expect more successful employees, better results and a higher return on investment in staff development. Experiential learning in the workplace also promotes teamwork, which is key to success in the modern business environment. 

However, it is crucial not to neglect critical reflection when implementing experiential learning. Individuals and groups need to constantly reflect on their experiences, reflect on what they have learned, and think about how they can use this knowledge to improve their practice. This means that experiential learning must be integrated into planning and implementation and not just as an incidental addition to existing practices. 

Experiential learning is a powerful tool for personal and professional growth, but only if individuals and organizations actively and critically incorporate it into their practices. Only in this way can we achieve that experiential learning becomes more than just an approach to learning - it becomes a way of life that enables us to continuously develop. 


Hawtrey, K. (2007). Using Experiential Learning Techniques. The Journal of Economic Education, 38(2), 143–152. doi:10.3200/jece.38.2.143-152 

Kayes, AB, Kayes, DC, & Kolb, DA (2005). Experiential learning in teams. Simulation & Gaming, 36(3), 330–354. doi:10.1177/1046878105279012 

Kolb, D. and R. Fry (1975). Towards an applied theory of experiential learning. In Theories of group processes, ed. CL Copper, pp. 33-58. London: John Wiley.  

Kolb, DA (1984). Experiential learning: experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall 

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