We are adding a garage onto the front of our house. Being a telecommuter, and with warmer weather starting to appear off and on, I have been keeping the front door open and as such, I catch the occasional discussion going on between my good friend Phil aka Da Boss and Lanny, his trusty sidekick.

Phil providing some just in time training on loading a nail gun

Last week, they were starting to close in the walls and Lanny was happily tapping away with the nail gun making that shhht-thunk noise when Phil hollered “Lanny! There’s no nails in that gun!” I wondered how Phil knew that when they were working at opposite sides of the “site.” Lanny looked puzzled because he had just loaded the gun and had no idea why the nails weren’t coming out. A quick bit of troubleshooting by Phil determined that an adjustment of the thingymajiggy had to be made because he was using longer nails. Phil showed Lanny the fine art of thingymajiggy adjustments – rapidly tapped three nails into the top plate and passed the gun back (which is when I snapped the shutter.)

That brief exchange set me off thinking about experiential learning vs on-the-job training (OJT), apprenticeships and the likes and my own preference for learning by doing. If I spent a tenth of my green fees on golf lessons and half the time I spend on a course at the driving range instead of just whacking that darn ball, I could probably break 90.

Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I will learn.
~ Benjamin Franklin

Experiential Learning has been around for a long time. Kolb (1984) proposed a four stage learning cycle, shown below. Simply put, it’s learning that is designed so that students are directly involved in the learning experience. Korth & Levya-Gardner (2006) note that while the model was designed for educators (read – in the classroom), it  has also “been applied to a variety of professional, organizational and managerial situations” (pg. 1124).  These different applications are represented by the different groups in the center of the model below.

From Multi-Stakeholder Partnerships Knowledge Portal. http://www.mspguide.org/tool/experiential-learning-cycle

When Kolb’s theory is applied, the learner starts by (1) having a concrete experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.

So this has been a bit of an epiphany if you like big(ger) words – or an ah-hah moment if you prefer the shorter ones. I have been misusing the term experiential learning for quite awhile. My scenario with Phil and Lanny is not an example of experiential learning. Lanny did not have the opportunity to reflect on his experience with the nail gun thingymajiggy and definitely did not conduct any analysis or arrive at any conclusions to test hypothesis in the future. I have been incorrectly attributed learning from any life experience as experiential learning. My bad!


Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs. NJ: Prentice Hall

Korth, S. J. & Levya-Gardner (2006). Rapid reflection throughout the performance-improvement process. In Pershing, J. A. (Ed.), Handbook of Human Performance Technology (1122-1146). San Francisco: Wiley.


  1. Dale Baker on May 8, 2016 at 3:07 pm

    Absolutely one of the best posts I have read so far this year. Thanks Brett. This one definitely gets passed on.

    Regards, Dale Baker

    From: Workplace Performance Reply-To: Workplace Performance Date: Saturday, May 7, 2016 at 16:38 To: Dale Baker Subject: [New post] Experiential Learning Vs. Learning from Experience

    WordPress.com Brett D. Christensen posted: “We are adding a garage onto the front of our house. Being a telecommuter, and with warmer weather starting to appear off and on, I have been keeping the front door open and as such, I catch the occasional discussion going on between my good friend Phil ak”

    • Brett D. Christensen on May 8, 2016 at 4:48 pm

      Thanks Dale. Glad you enjoyed it and appreciate that you passed it on. Something else I have been mulling over is the fact the experiential learning, on-the-job training etc are all “designed interventions” whereas (learning by experience) is that so-hard-to-measure factor in measuring individual ability!

      • Sid Joynson on May 8, 2016 at 7:25 pm

        I think we must always remember that ultimately it is not data or intellectual knowledge we seek, but understanding.

        I like the 4 A’s sequence for the learning/understanding process.
        A1. I am A-void. I don’t think and I don’t act.
        A2 – I become Aware. I do think but I don’t act.
        A3 – I Adopt. I do think and I do act.
        A4 – I become Adept. I can act without thinking.
        Learning to drive a car is a perfect example of this process that we have all followed. —
        Bruce Lee defined A3 as the key step, “If you want to learn to swim, jump into the water. On dry land no frame of mind is ever going to help you. The intellectual mind prefers A2, and wants to stand on the river-bank and discuss the nature of water. –
        Sophocles warned us of this problem in 500BC. “One learns by doing the thing; for though you think you know, you have no certainty until you try.” –

        Some more wise words on the subject of understanding.
        “In a production plant operation data is highly regarded – but I consider facts to be more important. When a problem arises, if our search for the causes is not thorough, the action taken will be out of focus. This is why we repeatedly ask ‘why?’ — “Understanding is my favourite word. I believe it has a specific meaning – to approach an object positively and comprehend its nature.” Taiichi Ohno —

        “Don’t just be a collector of facts; try to penetrate to the secrets of their occurrence, persistently search for the laws that govern them.” Ivan Pavlov.

        • Brett D. Christensen on May 8, 2016 at 9:41 pm

          Thanks Sid, I enjoyed reading that. In all my trading and education in this field I was always taught that “understanding” is tricky because it is difficult to measure. That is why I was taught to focus on outcomes… if you understand heart surgery but can’t perform it what is the value of the understanding? Would love to hear your thoughts.

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