Experiential 2017-05-05T04:44:25+00:00

Experiential Learning

Many of us have heard the saying…

“If you tell me how to do something, I will forget it.  If you show me how to do it, I may remember it.  If you involve me in doing it, I will understand completely.”

The reason this saying is so common around training events is that it’s true.  An overwhelming amount of research supports that we remember more information when it’s presented visually, versus audibly.

Experiential Leadership Learning

It’s part of the reason why we are barraged with Powerpoint slides during presentations.  The research doesn’t control for the quality of someone’s slide deck.

Below, we’re presenting some ranges drawn from the research to illustrate the point about memory retention rates:

  • 10% and 20% of words spoken
  • 40% and 50% of visual information presented properly
  • 70% (up to permanently) of the actions we physically do

I only ask… “Can you still ride a bike?”

Despite this research, most leadership development programs don’t leverage learning through physical activities.


The type of training provided to first responders, scouts, and our military personnel is called experiential.  The body of research on the benefits of the experiential learning method is now robust.  In her recent Harvard Business Review article titled, “Why Leadership Development Isn’t Developing Leaders,” Deborah Rowland explains the benefits of the experiential method.

Why leadership development isn’t developing leaders

If you’re responsible for building a team, managing a team, integrating teams, leadership development, high potential employees, charging up a sales group, or simply needing to boost any work group, you should be evaluating programs that provide an experiential learning approach.

Going through the motions, spending significant corporate resources on traditional classroom learning, where participants are passively sitting, listening, and perhaps viewing their phone is wasting resources.

If you are delivering leadership training via the same method every year, in the same (sterile, walled) location as your office, or even at an off-site environment, and it isn’t having the desired outcome, why wouldn’t you consider training your leaders in the method first responders are trained… people who by definition must respond with immediacy, clarity, action, and results… while under pressure?

Let us challenge your paradigm.

It has been said that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result.  So, this year, why not challenge your current leadership development paradigm.  Try a new (and proven) approach.  Evaluate your future leaders (and yourself) in physically active, outdoor, unforeseen problem solving exercises.  Consider what you might witness.  Imagine how revealing their behavior will be to you, themselves, and their teammates.

Another angle to consider.  When was the last time one of your children came home gushing with excitement over a lesson at school, or outside the classroom?  Chances are, it was when they had an experiential activity.

Noodle on that.

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