The rise of experience-led learning

four people watching on white MacBook on top of glass-top table


It can’t be denied that there has been a recent shift in the way L&D professionals approach workplace learning. In fact, you could say they’re moving away from the norm. Where workplace learning has long focused on the content – creating high-quality pieces of (mainly) e-learning, which they hoped would meet all the learners’ needs – there has now been a shift towards experience-led learning, which focuses on the whole experience of the learning. The wider picture.

But why has this change happened? What does experience-led learning look like, and what has been the driving force behind it? How does the business’s needs fit into it? These are questions that L&D professionals are asking themselves, so let’s address them.

It’s about good quality practice

Experience-led learning isn’t rocket science. In fact, the theories behind it have been around for a while, but change has been slow to happen. Even so, things are now moving. For example, the traditional pedagogical approach – a teacher being the one to transfer and provide all knowledge – is now almost something of the past (in workplace learning at least). Even simply providing a selection of e-learning courses is becoming old news. It’s because it became apparent that learners need to have a say in their learning, that the where, when and what is important. This thinking developed into learning movements such as self-directed learning and ‘learning in the flow of work’.

And that is what experience-led learning is building on. It’s the recognition that experience is key, as it’s through experience that people really learn. It still includes content, don’t get me wrong, but there is more focus on the delivery, as well as providing opportunities to put their new knowledge into practice, to get feedback, to try again. This is all necessary to increase the level of understanding.

Josh Bersin’s capability academy model

A great example of experience-led learning is Josh Bersin’s capability academy model. This model goes beyond the technical and functional skills and focuses on the capabilities a business needs to thrive. As Bersin says in his article, it is not a content library, but a place to learn. A place where experts can contribute, where peers can share their knowledge, and overall, a place to deepen knowledge and understanding, to take it further.

Corporate Capability Academy, JOSH BERSIN.

It recognises the role the business has to play, the investment they have to make in it. Therefore, it isn’t a place where the learner is simply left to direct their own learning, the academies make sure it meets the business’s needs too. This investment makes sure they go beyond a simple L&D programme. In fact, the academies are creating month-long programmes, if they see fit, filled with assignments, practical experience, mentoring – everything the learners needs to deepen their understanding.

Overall, experience-led learning is about good quality practice. And businesses are building on this idea in different ways. For example, social and cohort learning are becoming popular choices as they allow for feedback and contextualisation of topics. In practice, this may be a learning platform which allows learners to discuss the learning, ask questions, and learn from each other. Or it may be a programme that connects learners with other employees from the business to help gain a broader understanding of the business and the roles within it.

It’s technology’s ‘coming of age’ story

If the theories have been around for a while, then why is the change happening now? One word: technology. This is technology’s ‘coming of age’ story. Before, it wasn’t advanced enough to make experience-led learning a reality, but with the leaps and bounds it’s made in recent years, it has now caught up with the aspirations.

A significant technological development is the Learning Management System (LMS). Before, they were very much organised around the business needs: they allowed administrators and managers to track what they needed, such as completion numbers and test scores. The learner was almost a secondary figure.

Woman in Black Crew Neck T-shirt Sitting by the Table While Using Laptop

LXPs (Learning Experience Platforms) aimed to change that, recognising that the learner’s experience was important to the success and impact of the training. But the technology wasn’t quite mature enough for it to be successful. But it wasn’t wasted, as they certainly acted as a catalyst for activity from a developer’s point of view, and the technology has since advanced to make this a reality.

Authoring tools have also developed. We’re moving away from SCORM to xAPI. Whereas SCORM recorded basic analytics such as how many learners completed a piece of training, xAPI can go a lot further. It allows for a lot more learner analytics. It can track games, simulations, real-life learning, team learning, even learning plans and goals, and it doesn’t matter if the learning is on a mobile or a desktop. Having this broader insight allows for more connections, trends and patterns to be found; it’s an insightful way of looking into behaviour, which can then be used to improve the content and experience.

It’s now about the learner and the business

Thanks to these technological advancements, we can now cater for both the learner and the business, which is important. By helping the workforce thrive, you help the business thrive. The two are interconnected.

As I explained above, the technology is now there. We now have learning platforms that combine a great LXP experience (for the learner) and fantastic metrics, administration and tracking (for the business). One such platform is learning ecosystem Learning Cloud 6, by Netex Learning. It is not only liked by administrators and managers because its reporting and admin side is easy, but it combines a great user interface, social learning apps and content creation tools to help create a second-to-none learner experience.

L&D professionals can’t work in a vacuum

But what does this mean for the L&D professionals? Some companies have shared the new approach they’re taking as a result of turning to experience-led learning. To develop a programme that will make a difference to the learner, L&D professionals have realised they can’t work in a vacuum. So, they have started to invest more time in engaging with the stakeholders and learners. This includes carrying out focus groups, polls, surveys – anything to gather feedback. They’ve also invested more time in wider research, identifying what is changing in the industry, the business and the roles within the business, all to make sure the learning reflects real life. The way they build and develop the content has changed too. They’ve had to become more agile, nimble, and ready to make small changes to the content as and when is needed.

This rise in experience-led learning is evidence that L&D is an ever-moving picture. It’ll be exciting to observe how businesses adapt to the evolving technology and the opportunities that it brings. Are they ready to embrace it? Are they curious to see where it can take them? Even if the answer is yes, in this uncertain economic climate, they may not feel it’s the right time. But with upskilling and reskilling employees proving to be a way to reduce turnover and to keep the workforce your business needs to thrive, maybe L&D is the investment that should be made?


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Carol Butler

With over 8 years in the L&D industry, Carol has witnessed the many incredible and ground-breaking changes that have happened in the industry and is excited to see what the future holds. When she isn’t writing about all things L&D, you’ll usually find her baking, reading, and treading the boards of her local theatre.