Five advantages of experiential learning

Experiential learning is an active, learner-centric methodology where learners put knowledge and skills to use in a meaningful and relevant fashion.

Northwell Health’s Patient Safety Institute does this by preparing employees to provide safe, effective and compassionate patient care. It’s not enough to “have knowledge;” you have to understand how, when and why to use it. The institute utilizes experiential learning and provides a safe environment for the workforce to practice and rehearse for work, just as a sports team, pilot or band would before the big show.

Here are five distinct advantages experiential learning has over traditional classroom, instructor-centric methods.

1. Ability to immediately apply knowledge

Experiential learning is an opportunity for learners to apply what they’ve been taught to solve real-world challenges. Learners test their understanding of underlying principles, processes and procedures and can experiment and adapt their practice to achieve best outcomes.

2. Access to real-time coaching and feedback

Achieving expertise requires practice and focused coaching based on what is observed during practice. Every experiential learning activity should include a debriefing session where learners receive feedback and coaching from experts and fellow team members.

3. Promotion of teamwork and communication skills

Most errors in health care involve a breakdown in communication and teamwork. Because the care of patients is provided in a team, we should learn and practice in teams. Reading a book or listening to a lecture does not provide the same experience. You have to do it!

4. Development of reflective practice habits

The gold standard in education is the person who can self-monitor the effectiveness of his plan, anticipate outcomes and develop contingency plans. We often refer to these people as “experts.” They are expert because they have had more experiences and have received more coaching than a non-expert and have incorporated certain thinking disciplines into everyday practice. Experiential learning helps accelerate the journey from novice to expert.

5. Accomplishments are obvious

Learners can improve, and know they have improved, in as little as an hour because of the feedback loop created by problem solving, feedback and practicing again. In a traditional classroom setting, learners often do not know if they are on the path to success until they take an exam and get a score.

Robert Kerner is director of Northwell Health’s Patient Safety Institute. He has extensive experience as a paramedic, emergency nurse and health care educator. He holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from Adelphi University, a Juris Doctor from New York Law School and a Doctor of Education from Teachers College, Columbia University.