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ATD Blog

6 Learner-Centered Activities That Teach to Experience

Tuesday, December 5, 2023

If experience is the best teacher, then why are so many learning professionals still hesitant to apply the old adage to their learning designs? Perhaps it’s because they limit experience to on-the-job training only, or because they limit teaching to something only trainers and instructional videos can do. Whatever the case, this limiting belief needs to change. Learning professionals are in the perfect position to close the gap between experience and teaching by shifting their perspective on the influence trainings can have on employees and their chosen behaviors. When they do this, they push the limits of learning and development and discover new, innovative ways of teaching to experience.

So, what does this look like? It’s creating learner-centered activities that mimic reality while also hitting the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. This new gold standard calls trainers and instructional designers alike to place less emphasis on traditional rules of engagement, like using polls, that encourage participation and assessments to gauge retention because these target the taxonomy framework’s two lowest levels—remembering and explaining. Instead, trainers and instructional designers should emphasize the use of activities that address the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy while also bridging the realities of on-the-job training with experiential learning.

This may sound difficult to do, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are six activities that can be used either during in-person or remote trainings to get talent professionals started:

1. Virtual Reality and Simulations: Virtual reality immerses learners in true-to-life simulations that teach them how to execute job-related tasks like managing customer interactions, operating new equipment and machinery, and navigating online business processes safely, in real time, and with immediate feedback.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Levels Addressed: apply (primary); analyze, evaluate (supporting)

2. Role Play With Fishbowl: When virtual reality isn’t an option, trainers and instructional designers can attempt to recreate it. In this activity, learner groups write true-to-life scripts. For example, act out a common interaction between a customer and employee, related to the training topic, for the larger class. The class observes the reenactment with the goal of recognizing key concepts, identifying problems and potential solutions, and more. The class debriefs by sharing observations made at the end of each role play.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Levels Addressed: create (primary); understand, apply, analyze, evaluate (supporting)


3. Game Design: Encourage learners to get crafty by challenging them to create a unique game based on the training’s content, and then have the class play it. Learners have fun designing game boards, creating question cards, and the like. Pro tip: Challenge learners to ditch standard trivia games, like Jeopardy, for those that call for problem solving and analysis skills.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Levels Addressed: create (primary); understand, apply (supporting)

4. Ideograms: Learners are presented with unlabeled images, graphics, and charts previously discussed in the training and then are asked to write down as many details as they can recall about its significance to the course’s topic before sharing their notes with a peer or the larger class.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Levels Addressed: analyze (primary); remember, understand (supporting)


5. Comparative Case Studies: Learners review two versions of the same case study—one reflects the ideal situation and the other reflects a typical situation—then compare and contrast the two using a Venn diagram.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Levels Addressed: evaluate (primary); understand, analyze (supporting)

6. Cave-to-Commons Approach: Learners are presented with a problem and then work individually to brainstorm and establish possible solutions. They then present their best idea to the class. After each learner has shared their idea, the class evaluates each one together with the goal of identifying one solution to move forward with.

Bloom’s Taxonomy Levels Addressed: create (primary); understand, analyze, evaluate (supporting)

The reality is learners want to be engaged AND challenged; they don’t want to compromise one for the other via polls and pop quizzes, so learning professionals should give the people what they want by leveraging the six activities. Formal training coupled with on-the-job experience is best, but when that isn’t available, trainers and instructional designers can shoot for activities that bring experience into the classroom by challenging learners to create, analyze, and evaluate real-life data and scenarios. Empower learners to lead small group discussions, build on each other’s ideas, and explain complex concepts to their peers. When learning professionals do this, they tap into experience’s power to teach while giving learners the confidence needed to apply the teaching to their real-world experiences.

About the Author

Stacy N. Williams is a 5x award winning Talent Development leader, author, speaker and founder of Never Stop Learning, LLC, an organization committed to helping companies build high performing teams through customized, metrics-based training that blends in-class experiences with on the job application. Williams is using her 20 years of industry experience to transform how companies approach employee development by overturning the belief that one-and-done trainings are enough to solidify knowledge and motivate teams to change fixed behavior patterns.

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