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Experiential Learning … Is It For You?

Posted by Deborah Bigelow Crawford

Deborah Bigelow Crawford has more than 20 years of experience in business management and handles the operational and administrative functions of PM Solutions. Ms. Bigelow Crawford also serves as President of the PM College®, PM Solutions' training division, where she is responsible for the fiscal management and quality assurance of all training and professional development programs. Prior to joining PM Solutions, she served as the Executive Director of the Project Management Institute (PMI), and was instrumental in providing the foundation and infrastructure for the exponential growth that the Institute has maintained over the last 10 years. In addition, she served as the Executive Director of the PMI Educational Foundation. Over the last decade, she has authored numerous articles in PM Network, Chief Project Officer, and Optimize magazines. Ms. Bigelow Crawford is also co-author of the book Project Management Essentials. She has presented a variety of papers as a speaker at international symposia and conferences, and is a member of the National Association of Female Executives and the Project Management Institute.

We all learn differently.  I’m beginning to feel my age because I am definitely a person who needs paper and pen.  I need interaction and application opportunities.  However, my children, who have been raised in this digital world, like learning online.  They can focus and put their learning experience into their busy agenda when they have gaps of time to do so.  Then there is experiential learning.  Based on many conversations with all types of learners, this is a learning experience that satisfies all of us!

What do I mean by “experiential learning”?  Well, a formal description is, “the process of learning through experience," and is more specifically defined as "learning through reflection on doing" (from Felicia, Patrick,  Handbook of Research on Improving Learning and Motivation [2011], p. 1003).

One example of experiential learning is going to the zoo and learning through observation and interaction with the animals and the whole zoo environment, as opposed to reading and learning about animals in a book. By participating in the whole experience, one encounters and investigates numerous situations firsthand, instead of hearing or reading about others' experiences.  The same is true in adult education, if you have an opportunity to truly experience the decision making, the interactions, and the stress of a real live work situation, you are provided with valuable experiential learning opportunities, which will contribute significantly to your overall understanding of the real-time environment.

PM College has always prided itself in the fact that we are always on top of, if not leading, the research for all aspects of project management. Our State of Training research, where we had 247 organizations participating, showed that the majority of organizations (69%) felt that instructor-led training was the most effective training.  The second most effective was blended training, (a blend of instructor-led and eLearning) with a score of 53%. It will be interesting to see how these methods of training will rate with today’s more aggressive need for experiential!

 From our research over 7 years ago, we found that most learners liked a blended experience: the benefit of interacting with peers, having a live instructor to answer questions and to demonstrate concepts; and then online learning to reinforce these concepts.  Experiential learning was not even considered back then.  However, it is now, and it is coming on strong!  It is the reason why PM College now offers PM in Motion!  It is a blend of a live instructor presenting the concepts and skills that project managers need, and is followed by a simulation that reinforces these skills.  The simulation enables the participants to put these learnings in motion!  Within the simulation, real-world decisions are made that impact the result of the project.  The simulation presents challenges, changes, and twists similar to those encountered in a real-world project.  Each decision made leads the team down a unique project path.

I’m curious to understand how others (millennials, X Gen, and baby boomers) feel they learn best.  Knowledge is power…and I know I want to capitalize on obtaining and retaining as much knowledge as I can…and I’d love to have fun doing it!  How do you learn best??

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