Evolving eLearning with Experiential Learning Theory

Evolving eLearning with Experiential Learning Theory

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?












  • 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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