Evolving eLearning with Experiential Learning Theory

Evolving eLearning with Experiential Learning Theory

Guest Student Post By Kiara Elam


Guest Author: Kiara Elam

There is no doubt that eLearning has become a popular mode of education across many fields.  Many organizations utilize eLearning to provide training to new hires and existing employees.  Also, more universities are offering continuing education programs solely online, which incorporate eLearning faculties into the different courses.  The use of eLearning continues to increase as technology further develops. In fact, the market growth rate for eLearning since the year 2000 has been a whopping 900%!  So, how can training professionals continue to evolve eLearning in the workplace? Experiential learning may be one method to provide the best experience for adult learners in today’s society.

What is Experiential Learning Theory?

Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) originated from the workings of John Dewey, Kurt Lewin, Jean Piaget, Carl Rogers, and William James.  David Kolb is recognized as the creator of this theory, and in 1984 he solidified the work of the earlier theorists in his groundbreaking book titled Experiential Learning: experience as the source of learning and development.  ELT is based on the premise that learners gain knowledge through discovery and experience.  We are shaped and developed from the experiences that we have in our daily lives, and from these experiences wisdom is inherited and behaviors are changed.  There are four stages that complete the Experiential Learning Theory:



  • Concrete Experience
  • Reflective Observation
  • Abstract Conceptualization
  • Active Experimentation.


These stages reflect a cycle of learning that continues throughout our lives.

Application of Experiential Learning Theory

In order to see a true change in behavior, adult learners must grasp a concept and develop some form of knowledge, skills, or attitudes from the concept.  To do this, Instructional Designers can incorporate the Experiential Learning Theory into training programs to tie-in reality and give meaning to a subject.  Including exercises with scenarios based on real-life work situations and utilizing simulations for practice of application are ways in which ELT can be used in conjunction with eLearning to increase knowledge in adult learners.  SHIFT eLearning even lists Gamification as a rewarding method that can be used so that learners are engaging their skills and applying their experiences to increase transfer from training to the workplace.

As expressed, the use of eLearning is growing rapidly with the ever-changing nature of technology.  Instructional Designers and other training professionals are constantly looking for creative ways to integrate various methods of andragogy into the design of their training programs.  When you utilize ELT in conjunction with eLearning, you create a unique opportunity for real-life experiences to connect with subject-matter in order to effectively increase knowledge, skills, and attitudes in adult learners.  Effective eLearning programs will recreate reality through scenarios, improve comprehension using simulations, enhance critical thinking skills, and ultimately motivate and reward adult learners. This theory is a sure-fire way to increase transference of skills back to the workplace and create life-long learners.

Questions for Discussion

What other activities do you feel would be useful when implementing Experiential Learning Theory in eLearning for workplace training?

In what ways can the Experiential Learning Theory be improved upon to better benefit how adults learn?











  • In what ways can the Experiential Learning Theory be improved upon to better benefit how adults learn?

    This was an awesome article. When the Covid-19 epidemic came upon us, eLearning was the primary source for educators to teach their students. The Experiential Learning Theory could be improved if there are individuals who are actively in the current field that they are teaching. This aligns perfectly with (ELT) as it gives credibility towards the teacher (when they are providing real-time simulations, etc.) and builds confidence towards the learner (when they are performing internships, hands-on-activities, etc.).

  • To improve ELT, bringing or discussing real-life examples or scenarios to help adults learn and better benefit themselves by applying their skills to real-life scenarios and understanding how others react and resolve the situations. Hands-on activities would also be beneficial in allowing adults the opportunity to apply their knowledge and skills in resolving the problem. Overall, the ELT needs to be broadcast and made more well-aware to the public so we all have a better understanding and can grasp what is required further to develop their knowledge, skills, and attitudes.

  • In thinking about trends in the use of Social Media I think we will begin to see the use of Social Experiential Learning that is Social Media Like in nature. I think many platforms already have tools for this type of experience built in but the idea with Instructional Designers actively looking for opportunities to instill this type of learning hasn’t readily caught on. I think it’s just a matter of time. As working generations evolve from one set dominating to another, social media used consistently for learning is right around the corner and will follow our millennials and beyond into the learning work place.

  • Priscila Membreno

    In what ways can the Experiential Learning Theory be improved upon to better benefit how adults learn?
    I dont think it needs to be improved more so, I think it needs to be emphasized. I think the Experiential Learning Theory is the way to go and that should be incorporated in almost all training. Our generation is filled with stimulation from screens, computers, tv, entertainment etc. We have to create content that keeps up with engagement in order to compete our primary objective. To do so, I strongly believe Experiential Learning has to be incorporated most of the time. I think we need to value this more than we did years ago.

  • Ginger Ulloa-Enright

    Experiential Learning Theory is the foundation of my instructional design practice. I like to use a contemplative pedagogy approach using reflective questions based on the learners past experiences. I feel that having learners think about their experiences and apply them to what they are learning drives change and learning transfer. For example, I am creating a course design on “Diversity in Organizations”. Some of the learning activities revolve around using contemplation that is applied to the reading, lessons and experiences. It allows the learner to take a deep dive into why they have certain perspectives and if those perspectives are obstacles to DEI&B within their personal lives and within their organizations.

  • Some great thoughts in this post, I think it has a lot to offer the education community. Well, Experiential Learning through the MG20 summit produces leaders capable of combating crucial global problems.
    Here’s the link: https://www.knovva.com/global-education/

  • I really like this article and Experiential Learning Theory. I feel gamification is great when done right. It’s fun, engaging, encourage socialization, and sometimes even competition. Great article!

  • This was a great article as it really illustrates the repeated cycle that one takes in learning and improving through our experiences.

    Some activities that I feel are useful are scenario examples that walk you through a realistic problem and show you how to solve it applying the desired set of skills.

    Some ways Experiential Learning Theory could be improved upon is through knowledge checks. I feel knowledge checks can often be too easy, making the skill seem unrealistically clear in application. Which I feel could lead to lack of confidence in adoption.

  • I think this was a really good article and helped me to contextualize what is so often missing in elearning – either within the context of school or work. When I think of work specifically we have seen our elearning and trainings be less successful because they can be much less engaging. I think if they are designed with ELT in mind this would begin to solve that problem.

  • I think ELT definitely is the need of the hour. In addition to the ways mentioned in the article to enhance ELT in an eLearning scenario, another important activity could be to bring in guest speakers who are actually facing or have faced some challenges related to the topic of the eLearning module. This way, the audience would have deeper insights into the problem statement, the options available in front of the speaker, and the thought process that went into choosing the right solution process. Relating an actual case study from an industry speaker to the course study would go a long way in enhancing their ELT learning.

  • This was a great article to read, well written and to the point! Also loved the questions for discussion!

    “Exercises with scenarios based on real-life work situations and utilizing simulations for practice of application”

    I completely agree that this is essential for progress in the learning process, I also believe mock scenarios of failures are vital to help prepare them to manage in real life.

    Since Covid, my nurse friends have to do their clinicals online, where the use a program as they are able to be in a lab and walk around in stimulation- although I think its good effort- it may be harder to understand.

  • I realize that I commented on this article before but now I am re-reading this with a new perspective, as well. Due to, I am thinking about moving into a new role from Senior Trainer in the virtual environment to an instructional designer in L&D, this makes eLearning wit ELT a new way of thinking because I would literally be developing content for trainers to train if I get this new position. I think as a designer of content for adult learners its critics to understand how ELT works and needs to be incorporated into all that is created. These theories cannot die out because without them adult learners would be forced to memorize learning instead of change behaviors and grow from them.

  • Providing scenarios that simulate the actual work environment is a great way to provide an experiential learning environment. For instance, if you would like your learner to be able to operate a machine, it is best to create a course that mimic’s the machine’s interface. Gamification, as mentioned in the blog post, is also a great way to create an interactive training experience that allows you to create realistic environments that learners can explore and interact with. Additionally, bring in everyday realistic scenarios that enable the learner to examine situations, problems, and interactions that could occur during the job. Within the scenarios, you can “weave in interactions that simulate the way the learners consume information in real life” (Gutierrez, 2015). For instance, you can include role-playing activities such as recording a phone call or responding to emails within the scenario. Lastly, including a social element within the training will allow your learners to discuss the content of the practice. Providing a social component “guides learners to a familiar territory where they are comfortable learning”(Gutierrez, 2015).

    Gutierrez, K. (2015, March 05). Create Life-Long Learners with Experiential eLearning. Retrieved from https://www.shiftelearning.com/blog/create-life-long-learners-elearning

  • I think gamification and simulation are two activities which would be useful for the application and implementation of the Experiential Learning Theory in eLearning for workplace training. Gamification not only helps learners to learn by doing, but allows for learner engagement, retention, and interaction. Through the use of gamification, employees can learn how to problem solve and overcome on-the-job challenges through experiential learning. Simulations will enable learners to learn through simulated real-world simulations and practice their skills to react to different situations and find solutions.

    I think combining a social component such as group project problem based learning can improve upon Experiential Learning Theory, which will enhance learning for adults learners.

  • I truly do believe in the ELT that Kolb introduced into the T&D world because it is truly a concept that gravitates specifically to the adult learners. Without adult learners having the ability to relate to the concepts that Instructional Designers create, then they primarily lose interest and engagement, which can result in them not applying the material and not changing behaviors. I use these techniques and skills as a facilitator in the classroom and always try to tie back to what is important to the learner, why are we doing the training, and how does it impact their direct job role.
    This allows the learner to tie back to their own personal experiences and share their ideas. I also realized that it allows the material to “stick” with the adult learner for a life-long experience. I work with many content developers, as well, on various projects and have been active in adding gamification learning, so that it can create a fun, captivating content that is innovative.

  • ELearning for busy adult learners, has to connect to their professional or personal goals in order for them to learn a new skill that empowers them to learn. I personally enjoy elearning because of its flexibility versus a campus, and online learning offers a more personalized learning experience. Another advantage I enjoy, is how instructional designers are continually creating a variety of learning techniques and materials, such as videos, digital guides or even webinars.

  • eLearning is primarily used at the organization that I work for and I am working on enhancing my skillset to be able to create training content using video made from the Adobe suite of resources. In my experience, learning from video is helpful as it engages learners and provides an opportunity to see the expected behavior in action. Just today, I read feedback from an evaluation survey from a participant asking for a simulation of a new process that was implemented versus reading about it in a procedure guide. In addition to the activities that were listed in the post, role-play is another experiential activity that can be effective especially for interpersonal skill development. Learners have an opportunity to demonstrate the approach and skills and receive feedback from their peers and instructor. In terms of improvement for how experiential learning can be improved, I’d recommend that organizations make the investment to ensure that OD professionals are formally trained on how to effectively use the technology vs. a trial and error approach.

  • One useful activity that comes to mind is using guided questions to facilitate discussion. The questions are written to encourage the learner to think deeper about the subject and share how their concrete experience relate to the learning; to their reflective observation; to their abstract conceptualization; and to their active experimentation, respectively. This can help the learner to analyze their experiential learning by compartmentalizing and examining each phase. By having them share their thoughts and discovery of their learning, they then are synthesizing and connecting to the other learners who followed the same process. This activity can be done in any learning setting.

    • Thank you so much for your comment Sherri. I agree with everything that you’ve said. Guided questions stimulate learning much better than simple yes or no questions because of the discussion that evokes from them. These discussions can not only allow sharing of one’s own experiences, but also learning the experiences of others and how those may be similar and useful for one’s personal success going forward.

  • Jessica Dunklin McLean

    An activity that is very beneficial and useful when utilizing the Experiential Learning Theory is branching scenarios. Frequently we utilize the method of delivering the learning content and then simply testing for retention with a quiz. The problem with that is it doesn’t give the learner the experience or reflection they are looking for. By utilizing scenario-based learning, you can really gear the content to the individual while also taking them out of the world of black and white with simplistic questions that are either right or wrong. By utilizing branching with your scenarios, you give the learner the opportunity to see where different decisions might take them and how each decision impacts the overall outcome. Healthcare is a perfect example. There may be three ways to safely administer medication, but what is the BEST way and how do the other two ways impact the patient’s outcome.

  • The instructional designer will need to determine how best to have the learner reflect and conceptualize. While taking an e-learning you can’t simply ask a reflective and conceptual type question. The learning will click through to get to the next page. Designing activities that keep the learning active while they reflect and conceptualize may assist in their ability to best experiment when they get to the application phase of ELT.

  • What other activities do you feel would be useful when implementing Experiential Learning Theory in eLearning for workplace training?

    : Customer Service role-playing with questions and answers for the associates to improve their phone skills.

    In what ways can the Experiential Learning Theory be improved upon to better benefit how adults learn?

    : Make available for home-based use for employees that have busy schedules.

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