The Value of Experiential Learning

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The phrase “learning by doing” is one that most people have likely heard at some point in their educational journeys. Whether it is something simple like learning how to ride a bike or something as complex as learning how to operate an advanced technology, this idea emphasizes that there is a power in experiences, as they can shape how people retain and apply new information.

“Learning by doing”, more widely known as experiential learning, is an educational philosophy rooted in the idea of tackling real-life problems with real-life solutions, giving participants the ability to learn from the experiences they have directly encountered.

In the context of sales, experiential learning comes down to preparing reps with the experience necessary to be successful in their interactions with customers, allowing them to build confidence in their role. Enablement can be the key to facilitating these meaningful experiences to nurture deeper learning.

“The pieces of the puzzle that you have, how can you mold those, change those around, and experiment with those to get to the destination that you want to be in or to solve the problem that’s at hand,” said Kathryn Schoeberlin, global enablement for Twitch at Amazon Advertising. “I think that experiential learning is super helpful for any type of learner, whether you’re five or 55 or 105, because you’re really modeling and learning to execute those new skills in an entirely new situation.”

Experiential learning is rooted in the immersiveness and quick thinking that comes with new experiences. As reps learn, engage in new experiences, and reflect on them as they continue to learn, they are able to change and adapt their strategies to find what works best for them.

“I think that the more you can get emotion into it and the more you can involve multiple senses, the more immersive learning becomes,” said Micah Jacobson, senior director of global enablement innovation strategy at Salesforce and author of “Open to Outcome”. “The evidence is just really clear that that’s more powerful, longer-lasting learning.”

Below, learn how enablement can foster an experiential learning environment to drive skill development among reps.

Peer-to-Peer Shadowing to Show Real-World Scenarios

Having newer reps shadow veteran reps gives the new reps an opportunity to learn from the experience of trained sales professionals who are well-versed in navigating difficult situations. The newer reps are able to actively listen and observe as veteran reps execute their day-to-day conversations, gaining valuable insight into what a successful customer interaction looks like.

However, this practice doesn’t have to be restricted to new hires. In fact, more tenured, high-performing reps can also significantly benefit from shadowing their peers, as it can help shed light on other styles and approaches that sellers can add to their own toolkit.

“We think it’s just new hires that want to listen to peers to help them ramp up, but if you listen to your tenured sellers and ask them what they want to hear to help improve skills, they’ll tell you they want to observe other top performers, too,” said Cameron Tanner, senior director of global sales enablement at Cisco.

While reps who are shadowing aren’t participating in the buyer conversation themselves, being able to see the interaction unfold in real-time can help put best practices learned in the classroom into context, ingraining it deeper in a rep’s memory.

Role-Playing as a Form of Low-Stakes Practice

Role-playing and mock calls allow reps to practice real-life situations in low-stakes environments. These exercises build confidence among reps, helping them work through mistakes in scenarios where it is safe to fail in order to learn and refine their approach. This type of practice also offers enablement practitioners a valuable opportunity to provide in-the-moment coaching and feedback.

“If [reps] practice and they do it in a safe environment where they role-play, then they can actually improve their skill and feel like it is a safe environment for them to maybe mess up and actually improve and get some feedback,” said Terry Mitchell, president of 180 Enablement.

For example, enablement can compile a list of possible situations and divide reps into two groups, potential customers and reps, and assign them the situations randomly. As each pair acts out their scenario, their peers and the enablement facilitators can observe and give feedback.

This role-playing gives new reps hands-on experience in dealing with difficult situations, allowing them to learn from their encounters and mistakes without the high-stress environment of being with a real customer. The reps are able to bounce ideas off of their colleagues, while also taking in valuable knowledge from watching their peers go through the exercise.

Using Reflection as a Tool to Deepen Learning

Reflection and thoughtful questioning is an important tool that can be used to deepen one’s learning experience and overall understanding of a new skill. By reflecting on the choices a rep did or did not make in that certain situation, they can think critically about the experience and improve their confidence for their next encounter.

The book “Open to Outcome” describes a five-question model that can be used to facilitate meaningful experiential learning through reflective practice. Consider leveraging these questions as part of learning exercises such as role-playing or peer shadowing in order to help reps contextualize their experiences:

  • Did you notice…?
  • Why did that happen?
  • Does this happen in ___?
  • Who? What? Where? When? Why? Or, give an example.
  • What will you do now?

“If there was a first principle of learning, it would be attention,” said Jacobson. “We have to pay attention. The five questions allow us to maybe get away from that desire to always be the expert and empower our learners to be the expert by simply calling their attention.”

Reflection leads to important moments of awareness. This newfound awareness allows for new learning opportunities, as the rep is able to analyze their behavior in a constructive and thoughtful way. This reflection process leads to a powerful learning experience that can pave the way for successful customer interactions.

Experiential learning is critical to equipping reps with the confidence needed to be successful in their role. By helping reps get hands-on practice and real-time feedback, enablement can help expose reps to the potential solutions for the various situations that may come their way.

“The more that you can get your hands dirty with the experience I think the more the learning sticks,” said Schoeberlein.

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