Improve your functional onboarding through experiential learning

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Hands-on training is essential in most jobs, after all, a textbook can only take you so far. But in order to effectively speed up the transition from new hire to productive team member, it needs to be supported by structured reflection. That, in essence, is what experiential learning is all about.

Continuing our blog series on the 4 key elements of effective onboarding, here we will focus on functional onboarding and the value experiential learning brings to this element of the new hire jourmey.

The trouble with functional onboarding

Functional onboarding is about ensuring new hires have the necessary skills, knowledge and tools to do their job. Accountability for this usually lies with local leadership, with support from L&D.

The problem is often one of inconsistency of new hire experience . Some leaders provide a very positive experience, while in more frantic environments where leaders are being pulled in multiple directions, new hire experiences can be average or indeed negative.

A Tiny Pulse (2019) study showed that:

“Only one in three people strongly agree that they have the opportunity to reach their full potential at their organization.”

So what can you do to ensure all of your new hires feel empowered and become effective in their roles as quickly as possible?

To answer that question, let’s look at a real-world situation that we were recently presented with:

Client case study

A client approached us having noticed a disconnect between training delivered and performance in the field. They realized that too much focus was given to training, with inadequate workplace practice to validate whether new hires understood crucial principles and were capable of applying them. Consequently, they wanted to focus on experiential learning.

How did we make that happen?

By taking the classroom to the field!

We harnessed the capabilities of mobile devices to do more than simply provide content through the onboarding process. We designed a program in which new hires are prompted to demonstrate application of learning by providing evidence while out in the field.

This evidence enabled local leaders to assess new hire progress, performance and development.

Unexpected benefits

As a result of this project, promotions increased, no doubt boosting staff morale. Why?

Because many of these field engineers were failing to progress to the next tier, not because they lacked knowledge or skills, but due to language constraints. To obtain promotion, engineers needed to complete a written exam to demonstrate competence. Many either avoided the test or failed to progress because they were unable to articulate their answers satisfactorily in English.

The introduction of evidence-based assessment changed all of that. By harnessing the photo and video features of their mobile devices, these engineers created portfolios that clearly demonstrated the work they were capable of doing and its quality. They consequently approached the assessment with greater confidence and ultimately were rewarded with promotion.

This client case study revealed just how important it is to ensure you test what you need to test. If you use a theory test, does it effectively assess competence or does articulation play too big a part in determining the outcome?

How to make experiential learning work for your new hires

We’ve seen the difference experiential learning can make to new hires across countless clients. To make it work for your organization, consider implementing the following 3 approaches:

1. Use operational milestones to close the gap between content and application

The gap between learning theory and eventual application can be considerable. Establishing early operational milestones for new hires closes this gap, builds confidence for both the new hire and their local leader, and better engages the local leader as it is often easier to relate to milestones than development language.

By linking experiential learning activities to operational milestones achieved, you can strike the right balance between training and development. New hires often seek to learn lots of new skills and knowledge but then struggle to apply it all at once, resulting in over-training and under-development. In contrast, an operational milestone might be to successfully install one product or make a first sale of a specified product.

2. Empower the learner as a curator

Digital learning platforms often fall victim to passive learning as content is pushed without real engagement. But modern mobile devices are wonderfully synchronous in their capacity to share, which means digital learning can in fact be active and engaging.

We advocate mixing different learning activities into your development strategy by creating tasks that invite and encourage the learner to produce evidence of their learning, such as:

3.  Harness the power of effective, timely feedback

Giving feedback when the observer is not present, without tangible evidence and/or after significant time has passed since the completed activity greatly diminishes the effectiveness of the feedback. That is if it even occurs at all under such circumstances.

Some of these issues can be resolved by empowering the learner to provide tangible evidence while on the job. If that evidence is shared in a speedy manner, feedback can be timely and consequently more powerful.

So, by linking development to operational milestones, encouraging your new hires to evidence their development and application, and providing the opportunity for local leaders to share feedback on focused, tangible evidence, you can create a more cohesive, consistent and potent approach to role effectiveness.

Indeed, we have seen tangible increases in speed to competence and effectiveness using this approach, along with more satisfied local leaders who feel more engaged and empowered in the process.

Want to improve your onboarding experience?

If you would like to discuss your onboarding requirements and how our mobile learning and coaching app On.Board can help your new hires be more effective in their roles, as well as provide them with an experiential onboarding experience, please do get in touch by visiting


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