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Experiential Learning: How High-Performance Organizations Turn Leadership Development Experiences into Next Practices

Perhaps nowhere in the business world is experiential learning more valuable than when it is applied to developing the knowledge and skills of leaders. That’s exactly what i4cp found when we teamed with the Association for Talent Development (ATD) on a new study, Experiential Learning for Leaders: Action Learning, On-the-Job Learning, Serious Games, and Simulations.

Experiential learning (as defined in the study’s title) encompasses learning that occurs through activities from which participants derive new knowledge or skills. The study found that three-quarters of organizations use experiential learning to develop leaders at both frontline and senior levels.

Experiential learning differentiates high-performance organizations

Companies that outperform their competitors in the marketplace—high-performance organizations—do things differently. How? For starters, high-performers drive experiential learning opportunities deeper and leverage a wider range of learning experiences to engage and inform leaders.

On-the-job learning is widely popular as a leadership development tool, and many companies keep it informal, letting experiences unfold without a lot of structure or planning. However, high-performance organizations take a more formal approach, putting thought and effort into carefully designing experiences that optimize development opportunities and use leaders’ valuable, and often scarce, learning time more effectively.

i4cp and ATD discovered that those same high-performers are two times more likely to use newer technologies to expose leaders to learning experiences. For instance, they apply sophisticated—sometimes custom-built—technologies to drive simulations. While a scant 12 percent of organizations overall leverage virtual simulations to train leaders (and fewer than one in five use live simulations), high-performers apply the learning power of both approaches, achieving better development outcomes for their leaders and positively affecting market performance and learning effectiveness.

Next practices in experiential learning

Applying simulations in leadership development was just one of several next practices—defined by i4cp as approaches that are strongly correlated to market performance but in limited use mostly by high-performance organizations—identified by the study. Other insights into the learning methods that distinguish high-performers ranged from the types of skills they emphasized for experiential development to the ways they measured results.

Participants in the research included learning leaders from Hyatt Hotels, Cisco, and other top organizations that shared their innovative programs and offered tips on tying leadership development experiences to business needs, choosing and working with simulation vendors, and helping leaders sustain learning long after initial development has taken place.

Explore the newly discovered next practices in experiential development described in Experiential Learning for Leaders: Action Learning, On-the-Job Learning, Serious Games, and Simulations, available exclusively at the ATD Store. A white paper that summarizes the key findings is also available to i4cp member organizations.

Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.