Experiential Learning: Helping Management Overcome Barriers to Change

Joan S. Reed

As the saying goes, “the only constant thing in this world is change.” Change happens everywhere and in everything whether we like it or not. In the workplace, things can change without our participation or even without knowing. Change will happen, and if we don’t adapt, we’ll simply be left behind.

Businesses don’t only have to adapt to change, they have to be faster and be able to predict change. If management only relies on reacting to change, by the time they are able to educate their organization about the changes, they will have already been left behind.

Market trends change very quickly. Today’s popular items might be forgotten already by next week. But don’t discount old classics yet as some of them tend to make a comeback several years later. Take a look at fashion; some designers have new takes on old favorites.

All organizations are under constant pressure to learn, adapt, innovate, and grow. This presents a few significant challenges to any organization:

• Understanding which changes are pertinent to the business

• Weeding out the changes unrelated to the business

• Appreciating the impact and the benefits of the changes related to the business

• Educating the organization and implementing related programs to adapt to the change

As constant as change is, so are the barriers to change. There are the expected barriers, limited budgets, time, unavailability of resources, and increased complexity among others. Then there are the people-related barriers such as resistance to change and the unwillingness to learn. It might not be readily apparent, but people-related elements are the most significant barriers to change in an organization. Sometimes, it’s not just the people within the organization that are resistant to change, but people outside as well, like customers.

The challenge here then is how to overcome these people-related barriers to change. A number of organizations have tried to keep up by investing in technology-enhanced learning, like computer-based training and virtual classrooms. Unfortunately, much like traditional education in a real classroom, these methods have their drawbacks.

• There is lack of immersion

• Often expensive

• Time consuming

• Poor retention rates

However, there is a highly effective alternative known as experiential learning. Some define this method as ‘the process of engaging participants in authentic experiences with benefits and consequences.’ In other words, it’s learning from experience. But what makes it effective?

• It’s practical. Practice makes perfect. And by practicing theories, you learn better, especially when you are more aware of the consequences and benefits of your actions.

• It is interactive and immersive. Participants not only engage in their own roles, but in other people’s roles (especially unfamiliar ones for realization purposes) helping them understand the importance of other people and their roles in the organization.

• It is relevant to the job. Experiential learning is based on realistic and practical scenarios.

• It is emotionally engaging making it more memorable. Not only do participants retain the experience, they retain the education and the skills learned.

Experiential learning helps members of the organization be more aware of their roles and the roles of others. This gives a common understanding of bigger picture and the need for change.

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