Capability area 3: Experiential Learning

Capable organizations recognize that experiential or “on-the-ground” learning is critical to supporting innovation and continuous improvement. If an organization gives almost all its attention to doing things as it has always done them, it is unlikely that innovations and improvements will be identified to enhance performance.

 Experiential learning builds on existing formal education programs. Trainers have long realized that it is difficult to transfer learning from a classroom to workplace processes. Much of the reason is that at least 70% of workplace learning is informal – most is ad hoc and not facilitated (Cross 2007).

The “learning before, during and after” framework from BP has been adopted by many organizations as an easy way of thinking about experiential learning. It involves deliberate learning at different stages of initiatives. Framing these tools and processes as “learning before, during and after” gives needed structure and simplicity to work that is complex and integrative by nature (Collison and Parcell 2004, pp. 35–40).

Many tools and practices can fit into this framework. Some emphasize knowledge sharing and learning from peers, for instance, while others focus more on generation of new knowledge and innovation.

  • Learning before is the work one does before beginning an initiative. It includes learning from external experts and peers who have undertaken similar projects, and through existing research and evaluations. For example, an innovative multi-million dollar project might begin with a peer assist (Collison and Parcell 2004, p. 35).
  • Learning during is the work one does throughout an initiative. For example, a project can include a number of five-minute action reviews (Collison and Parcell 2004, p. 36).
  • Learning after is the work one does after an initiative, evaluating both the failures and successes of the projects. Such learning can be captured with a lessons-learned exercise (Collison and Parcell 2004, p. 36).

The assessment questions: Experiential Learning

In this capability area, the questions help organizations to determine if they view learning as an integral part of business and whether they have taken steps to ensure that people have opportunities to learn before, during and after projects and events.

Leaders at many levels should consider the following questions:

  • Is it clearly understood and emphasized in your organization that learning in the short term can make doing more efficient or effective in the long term?
  • Does learning before a project begins include gathering of explicit and tacit knowledge?
  • Is it expected that your employees will review progress and lessons learned during a project?
  • Is it expected that a post-project review will take place where lessons learned are shared and understood by peers or captured for future use?
  • Are learning processes well used and adopted throughout the organization or are they just occurring in isolated pockets?

Further guidance and practical examples: