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Why Experiential Learning Is A Perfect Match for Games

Do you remember having to sit in a classroom, bored out of your mind while a teacher lectured?

Or think of the last time you had a work training, where the trainer droned on at the front of the room while you practiced your doodling skills and pretended to listen.

How much did you actually learn in these situations? I’m guessing the answer is: not much.

You know from your own experience that listening to a lecture (or worse, watching a video of someone talking over slides) is not a very effective way to learn new information, techniques, or practices.

Thankfully, there is a different, much more effective way to learn.

Experiential Learning Is the Key to Success

In 1984, psychologist David Kolb published “Experiential Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development,” a paper that outlined his theory of Experiential Learning - the idea that we learn much more effectively from experience and reflecting on that experience (you can find the full text of his paper here).

Kolb’s theory outlined a four-step learning process:

  • First, concrete experience (i.e., having the actual experience)

  • Second, reflective observation (reflecting on the experience)

  • Third, abstract conceptualization (learning from the experience), and

  • Fourth, active experimentation (trying out what you have learned)

Most of us know from our own experience that we are much more engaged in the learning process and retain more of what we learn through experiences instead of being “talked at.”

“Learning by doing” is the core of the Experiential Learning model, but taken to a much higher level through the final three steps of post-experience observation, reflection, and experimentation (trying it again based on what you’ve learned).

If you want to know how to implement an experiential learning model in your own organization, the answer is quite simple:

Learning through games.

Why Games Are Perfect For Experiential Learning

Games are a perfect vehicle for the experiential learning model because they provide a way to test out a new skill, tactic, or tool in a low-stakes, safe, and controlled environment.

For example, imagine that you need to practice giving feedback. That’s a very scary situation for most people. They don't know how they’re going to come off, and they know that giving feedback has the potential to backfire. However, when you’re practicing it in the context of a game, the stakes are much lower. You can give “game-feedback” then ask how it was received, how it could do better, how it could land better, and try it again.

By playing games that develop real-world skills and practices, you can go through the entire Kolb learning cycle in a way that’s safe, non-threatening, and fun for the participants. Learning is more effective, and that translates into tangible, real-world results.


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