Experiential learning captures our attention because it’s immersive and hands-on. It makes participants active and engaged, boosting retention of information and skill acquisition.

This is not based on supposition or anecdote. A growing body of neuroscience and behavioral sciences research confirms that experiential learning leads to faster and deeper training and education.

A 2015 study from the University of Chicago, for instance, used fMRI brain scans to show that hands-on learning activates sensory and motor-related areas of the brain. Students who learned this way understood more and scored better in tests. In their influential book Make It Stick: the Science of Successful Learning, researchers Peter Brown, Henry Roediger and Mark McDaniel present persuasive evidence that the brain makes new connections more easily when engaged in active, “effortful” learning, being forced to solve a problem rather than taught a solution.

Experiential learning is not a panacea for all skill acquisition, of course. But it is particularly suited to transmitting certain sorts of skills. A research review from the Dartmouth Center for the Advancement of Learning found that experiential learning techniques work best when it comes to complex reasoning, critical thinking, creativity and socio-economic intelligence.

These are exactly the sort of skills that the FS industry will need to cultivate to unlock the full potential of intelligent solutions.

Experiential learning in the digital age

The power of experiential learning has been well understood for a long time. The master-apprentice model of teaching goes back well over a thousand years. But until recently, experiential learning has been limited by the bounds of experience. Depending on the skill in question, giving learners hands-on time with a task can be a real challenge.

But cutting-edge digital tools increasingly available to the FS industry are changing this. Teaching new skills—and fostering a culture of lifelong learning—has never been more important. It has also never been easier.

Five tools for fostering experiential learning

There is compelling evidence that experiential learning is powerful, and that technology can speed it up. The question the FS industry should be asking is not whether experiential learning is worthwhile but how best to deploy it. A range of promising experiential learning tools are already widely available across the industry. Here are five of the most exciting:

  • Mobile learning applications provide learners with on-demand learning content on any device at any time. They range from simple apps like podcasts to more elaborate solutions like analytics-driven end-to-end learning platforms. Mobile learning is an example of “micro-learning,” a training approach that slices concepts into three- or four-minute “nuggets” that can be deployed and consumed quickly.
  • Gamified learning applies the characteristics of games (fun, play, transparency, design, and competition) to training challenges in a work environment. Gamifying online training in large organizations has been shown to increase engagement.
  • Adaptive learning technology customizes training content for each learner to reflect their existing knowledge and skills. Powered by artificial intelligence, adaptive learning focuses on knowledge gaps to make training more efficient and effective. Area9, an adaptive learning firm, claims that these tools can boost knowledge retention and reduce training time by half.
  • Learning boards are a simple, powerful tool for finding, organizing, and sharing digital learning resources. They collect up to 15 activities and resources organized around a theme (usually a skill). A board might include recorded lectures, white papers, articles, and self-assessment quizzes. Anyone in an organization who wants to develop expertise in an area can work through its learning board. Production of the boards can also be crowdsourced. Accenture has used learning boards to train more than 180,000 employees in the latest digital technologies in just over 20 months.
  • Virtual reality training is still nascent, but early results are promising. Its use cases for financial services are numerous and compelling. As technological hurdles are addressed in coming years,

It is worth remembering that using technology for its own sake is often counterproductive. Creating a culture of lifelong learning will require offering training through a broad range of media. Digital tools should complement other learning mechanisms, not replace them. Hands-on learning experiences are, after all, as experiential as learning can get, and adopting newer techniques does not have to mean abandoning proven ones.

Kickstarting your experiential learning journey

FS leaders should ask themselves the following questions to kickstart their organization’s experiential learning journey:

  • Is my organization experimenting with experiential learning techniques?
  • Are our learning and recruitment systems ready to participate in apprenticeships or on-the-job training initiatives?
  • Are we applying design thinking or simulation tools to improve decision-making and learning?
  • Have we identified partners who can apply new technologies to personalize training and create immersive learning experiences?

If you’d like to continue the conversation about experiential learning in FS or about fostering a culture of lifelong learning, I’d love to hear from you. My contact information can be found below.

Otherwise, come back next week for my next post, which will look at another step the FS industry can take to prepare for the future of learning. In the meantime, you might be interested in the Accenture report on this topic: It’s Learning. Just Not As We Know It.

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