You learn more about an apple by taking one crisp, juicy bite than by reading an entire Wikipedia entry about apples. Everyone from Eve to Apple itself can tell you how world-changing a single bite can be.
Along the same lines, learning by doing has long been considered the most effective way to absorb and retain information. You can read manuals and listen to audio and watch videos on a particular subject, but when you get your hands dirty, so to speak, you simply learn more. There’s a lot of science behind this truth (and we’ll get to that), but it’s also an intuitive idea. Anyone who has ever apprenticed on a job will tell you they learned more from that “real” experience than they could from any book.
Learning by doing is a more engaging, effective, and ultimately more rewarding path to mastery than 2D paradigms of job training. Here’s how it works and why.
“Learning by doing” – what do we mean?
Learning by doing is chemistry lab instead of chemistry textbooks. It’s trade school. It’s doctoral rotations. And in a professional setting, it’s being given the opportunity to make and learn from mistakes on the job.
Also called experiential learning or kinesthetic learning, learning by doing means gaining knowledge in an embodied way while physically moving through a learning experience and engaging in its process.
Few people will argue whether experiential learning is effective. But in HR and L&D departments, learning by doing doesn’t always make sense. It can be dangerous in high-stakes scenarios where a mistake can cause serious injury or death. It’s expensive when you have large groups of people to train, especially if they’re not all located in the same place. And even in lower-stakes scenarios such as customer service, you pay a price for letting inexperienced associates “practice” live on the job. That price might be your reputation, customers, or simply inefficient work.
So while most people agree that experiential learning is the most effective way to learn, the question has always been how to support it safely and in a scalable way within enterprise L&D organizations.
Why does experiential learning work?
The brain learns by strengthening connections between functionally distinct regions, which is how we understand the world from an early age. It’s why we see a police car ahead on the highway and instinctively press on the brake — even if we’re not actually speeding. Without our brain consciously thinking, our foot reacts.
When a hands-on approach to learning is combined with attention and engagement — scientifically known as arousal — learners experience real emotional responses, which makes learning more memorable.
Learning is also about repetition. When a learner actually experiences an activity in a hands-on way — whether that’s interfacing with a customer or loading inventory at a warehouse — repetition breeds muscle memory. With periodic repetition and the right cadence of training, we can prevent the decay of knowledge and skills over time, too.
One of the reasons that experiential learning works so well is that the brain releases dopamine after positive feedback. It doesn’t just “feel good” to be right; there’s a neurochemical reaction that influences the strength of brain connections when we receive positive feedback. Studies have shown that learning performance is greatly affected by how, when, and how often feedback is delivered.
Feedback might take the form of a test to gauge how much the learner has absorbed or a cause-and-effect type of reaction: the learner takes an action, and something happens.
What’s the best approach to learning by doing?
Traditional experiential training models used apprenticeships, shadowing, and mentoring as ways of engaging trainees. These modalities, while certainly effective, are not scalable for today’s enterprise organizations, which are widely distributed across many locations.
They’re also not always safe. Throwing a warehouse worker out on the floor without sufficient training can be dangerous. Yet how can we expect new hires to build skills and knowledge without such “hands-on” learning experiences?
How Immersive Learning builds on the science of experiential learning
By combining VR with advanced learning theory, data science, and spatial design, Immersive Learning allows learners to learn by doing before they enter a “live” professional environment.
Immersive Learning has a few advantages when it comes to experiential learning.
- It invites interactivity with embodiment — a full-body learning experience that increases engagement.
- It offers perceptual fidelity, which means that virtual interactions mimic the physical world and therefore activate the same neural pathways in the brain to facilitate memory.
- It also offers emotional fidelity, meaning that it inspires real emotional responses — stress, anxiety, surprise; there is an ideal arousal state for learning.
- The ability to repeat Immersive Learning models on demand, with intermittent testing, taps into the learner’s need for repetition.
Immersive Learning is based on abundant neuroscience research, which has proven that the brain treats VR experiences as it would real-life experiences. If a learner performs well in a VR headset, it’s typically a good indicator of how they’ll perform in a similar scenario in real life.
Examples of hands-on learning using Immersive Learning
Companies using Immersive Learning to institute a “learning by doing” model range from giant retail chains with a need to scale up associate training across locations, to banks tackling fraud prevention, to logistics organizations for faster onboarding and time to proficiency for new hires. Here are just a few examples of real companies that have implemented Immersive Learning into their organizations.
- Verizon uses Immersive Learning to prepare retail store associates for the possibility of a robbery in a store — a situation that’s otherwise hard to practice in advance. With a high-stakes situation enacted in a headset, associates have the opportunity to react to a robbery without being in real danger. By creating modules modeled after actual security camera footage from Verizon stores, the environment is visually familiar and the learning experience is highly realistic. After learning in VR, 97% of employees came away feeling more confident about how to react in the event of a real robbery.
- Walmart uses Immersive Learning for various types of learning, including tasks store employees encounter in their day-to-day roles as well as rare, high-stakes situations that are hard to practice. With VR, associates scored higher on tests 70% of the time and logged a 10 to 15% higher rate of knowledge and skills retention than before VR.
- A global logistics company used VR to provide a drastically more realistic job preview with Immersive Learning — effectively doubling the retention of learning for package handlers.
These are just three examples of experiential learning, but there are plenty more. Immersive Learning is quickly replacing other forms of on-the-job training so that enterprise organizations can scale up their L&D efforts in a way that’s both more effective and more efficient.
Strivr’s VR platform enables immersive training and insights
Experiential learning is highly effective in many different kinds of professional environments. But while arguably the most valuable way to learn, learning by doing is optimized in concert with other styles of learning such as visual and auditory methods — a concept called multimodal learning.
Strivr’s platform actually builds on this concept, combining experiential learning with visual and auditory components within the headset learning experience. Learners receive instructions, see visual clues, and get feedback while immersed in the experience.
Strivr’s platform also provides data back to the L&D organization via VR training data. As the learner goes through a module in a headset, the technology captures four kinds of useful data:
- Usage data such as who conducted which training, how long, and how many times
- Sentiment analysis to show how users felt about the experience
- Performance data for concrete metrics on what they learned
- Attention and engagement data that can help predict on-the-job performance
Not only do people learn better by doing, but when they learn by doing via Strivr’s VR platform, the organization gets distinct data about how much each individual learned and what they still need to work on.
Curious to read more about how Strivr’s platform supports learning by doing? Download the free ebook Measuring the impact of Strivr’s Immersive Learning platform.