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Why experiential learning is important to us


Juliette Phillipson - 2024

Experiential learning is a method of education that emphasises active learning through experience. It involves acquiring knowledge, skills, and values from direct participation in activities, rather than from traditional teaching alone. Essentially, it is "learning through doing". The theory suggests that learning is most effective when learners are actively engaged in the experience. This could involve projects, experiments, or simulations where learners apply what they've been taught in real or simulated scenarios.

In his book on the theory of experiential learning, Daniel A. Kolb describes the four-stage learning cycle that underpins this approach (Kolb, 1984):

  1. Concrete Experience: This is the initial stage where the learner actively experiences an activity or situation in which they might apply the knowledge or skills.

  2. Reflective Observation: After experiencing, the learner reflects on that experience from many perspectives. In this stage, learners analyse or think about what they just did, what went well, and what did not.

  3. Abstract Conceptualization: This stage involves interpreting the events and understanding the relationships between them, leading to new ideas or modifications of existing theories.

  4. Active Experimentation: Finally, the learner applies their ideas to the world around them to see what results. This may involve experimenting with different ways to do something to see which works best.

Benefits of experiential learning include:

  • Real-world relevance: Applying knowledge and skills in real-world scenarios helps learners see the practical application, enhancing both retention and impact.

  • Problem-solving skills: Through assessing complex situations, making decisions, and observing the consequences of their actions, learners are enabled to think critically to solve problems.

  • Interpersonal skills: Most real-life scenarios involve working or interacting with others. This supports learners to develop interpersonal skills such as communication, negotiation, and collaboration whilst applying knowledge.

  • Resilience: By encouraging learners to take responsibility, manage risks, and deal with consequences, experiential learning supports social and emotional development.

  • Self-awareness: Learners are encouraged to think critically about their experiences, analyse their actions, and consider what they learned and how they might approach future scenarios. This reflection turns simple experiences into profound learning opportunities.

Educational institutions, corporate training programmes, and professional development workshops often employ experiential learning to enhance the effectiveness and engagement of their teaching methods.

Evidence from current leadership development literature has demonstrated that experiential learning, when paired with theoretical knowledge, is more effective than traditional teaching approaches in enhancing leadership skills and that programme participants respond positively to experiential learning opportunities in programme feedback (Ahrari  et al., 2021; Careau et al., 2014; CLEARY et al., 2020; Geerts et al., 2020;  Hemmati & Harris, 2023; MacKechnie et al., 2022; McGowan et al., 2020;  Mianda & Voce, 2018; Moore Simas et al., 2019; Onyura et al., 2019;  Steinert et al., 2012).

In our programmes, we employ a mixed-methods approach to teaching, with face-to-face teaching sessions supported heavily by experiential learning. Delegates are encouraged to actively employ learning in their own work environments as well as through team quality improvement projects, affording them an opportunity to experiment with and adapt new skills and techniques. We encourage both personal and team reflections at each session. Self-reflection is supported by submission of a reflective essay at the conclusion of the programme. Participant feedback on experiential learning has been highly positive, supporting current literature.


Ahrari, A., Abbas, A.,  Bhayana, R., Harris, A., & Probyn, L. (2021). Leadership Development  Programs for Radiology Residents: A Literature Review [Article]. Canadian  Association of Radiologists Journal, 72(4), 669–677.

Careau, E., Biba, G.,  Brander, R., Van Dijk, J. P., Verma, S., Paterson, M., & Tassone, M.  (2014). Health leadership education programs, best practices, and impact on  learners' knowledge, skills, attitudes, and behaviors and system  change: a literature review. Journal of Healthcare Leadership, 6,  39–50.

CLEARY, M., KORNHABER, R.,  THAPA, D. K., WEST, S., & VISENTIN, D. (2020). A Systematic Review of  Behavioral Outcomes for Leadership Interventions Among Health Professionals. Journal  of Nursing Research, 28(5), e118.

Geerts, J. M., Goodall, A.  H., & Agius, S. (2020). Evidence-based leadership development for  physicians: A systematic literature review. Social Science and Medicine,  246, 112709.

Hemmati, Z., & Harris,  S. (2023). Integrating leadership into the undergraduate medical curriculum in  the UK: a systematic review. BMJ Leader.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential  Learning: Experience As The Source Of Learning And Development.!

MacKechnie, M. C., Miclau,  T. A., Cordero, D. M., Tahir, P., & Miclau, T. (2022). Leadership  development programs for healthcare professionals in low‐and middle‐income  countries: A systematic review [Article]. The International Journal of  Health Planning and Management, 37(4), 2149–2166.

McGowan, E., Hale, J.,  Bezner, J., Harwood, K., Green-Wilson, J., & Stokes, E. (2020). Leadership  development of health and social care professionals: A systematic review. BMJ  Leader, 4(4), 231–238.

Mianda, S., & Voce, A.  (2018). Developing and evaluating clinical leadership interventions for  frontline healthcare providers: a review of the literature. BMC Health  Services Research, 18(1), 747.

Moore Simas, T. A., Cain, J.  M., Milner, R. J., Meacham, M. E., Bannon, A. L., Levin, L. L., Amir, N.,  Leung, K., Ockene, J. K., & Thorndyke, L. E. (2019). A Systematic Review  of Development Programs Designed to Address Leadership in Academic Health Center  Faculty. Journal of Continuing Education in the Health Professions, 39(1),  42–48.

Onyura, B., Crann, S.,  Tannenbaum, D., Whittaker, M. K., Murdoch, S., & Freeman, R. (2019). Is  postgraduate leadership education a match for the wicked problems of health  systems leadership? A critical systematic review. Perspectives on Medical  Education, 8(3), 133–142.

Steinert, Y., Naismith, L.,  & Mann, K. (2012). Faculty development initiatives designed to promote  leadership in medical education. A BEME systematic review: BEME Guide No. 19. Medical  Teacher, 34(6), 483–503.

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