When the guy in Row 3 starts snoring during the middle of your PowerPoint presentation, it might be time to pack up the slides and try a different approach.

One option, according to Dave Piltz of the Learning Key in Washington Crossing, is to employ experiential learning, a process by which people learn through direct experience. For example, employees will often learn more about a company’s new office space by actually touring it, rather than simply reading a memo about it.

“Learning happens through activity,” Piltz says, adding that activities such as scavenger hunts or round-table discussions are among the most effective ways to teach a new skill or elicit behavior change. “Activity engages people.”

Piltz will explain how businesses can benefit from experiential learning when they present “Unlock Your Learning Toolbox: The Keys to Learning” on Friday, November 21, at 10 a.m.at the Learning Key, 1093 General Washington Memorial Boulevard in Washington Crossing. Cost is $144.95. Call 215-493-9641, visit www.thelearningkey.com or E-mail mspeiser@thelearningkey.com.

During the seminar, Piltz will show participants how they can modify experiential activities to fit their current business needs, as well as how they can determine when it’s best to use experiential activities with clients. He will also discuss how to customize experiential tools and techniques for various clients. “You can do an activity with a client and they won’t know it,” he says. “But that activity can help you make a sale.”

Piltz has designed and delivered interactive training programs in leadership, communication, teamwork, customer service, professional effectiveness and organizational and educational change for more than 14 years. He joined the Learning Key in 2007 after previously working as a graphic illustrator, a technical trainer for a manufacturing company, and an organizational development training specialist at Penn State.

Piltz grew up in Lansdale and Scranton, Pennsylvania. His mother works as a secretary in a guidance counselor’s office, and his father is a high school teacher in the Philadelphia School District. Piltz earned a bachelor’s in aerospace engineering from Saint Louis University, then worked for five years as the director of residence life for a small liberal arts college. He later earned a master’s in industrial engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Experiential learning as an effective tool. Experiential learning might sound like child’s play to some, especially when there’s “real” work to be done. But it is an effective business tool because it fully engages participants, allowing them to understand an idea or concept in a new way, Piltz says.

For example, instead of listening to someone drone on about the importance of workplace diversity, participants might benefit more if they’re placed in groups and asked to compete in a hands-on activity such as a tug-of-war. Not only would they have a good time, but by working together they’ll also cultivate substantial relationships and gain a better understanding of each other.

Experiential learning, while fun, should also serve a purpose. To ensure activities are beneficial, businesses must establish a goal, such as team building or conflict resolution. Then, it’s important to observe the learning activity, as the results will provide insight and help businesses create an effective action plan.

When implemented correctly, experiential learning can make employees more effective and less stressed. They will be willing to communicate openly and solve conflicts, and they will also be happy to come to work, resulting in less sick days and increased sales or profits, he says.

Work with what you have. Remember playing hopscotch as a kid? All you needed were a rock and piece of chalk to draw the spaces but without realizing it, you were participating in an experiential activity that taught you about social skills, communication, numbers, and counting.

You can apply the same easy-to-do attitude when planning learning activities at your office. Activities don’t have to be grand or expensive to get the point across, Piltz says. Worksheets, quizzes and surveys can also do the trick.

Piltz cites an activity he once saw that revolved around a mint. The idea, he explained, was simple: How does the wrapped candy relate to conflict resolution? Participants, split into groups, then interacted with each other as they discussed the question and came up with possible answers.

That’s not to say businesses can’t plan more elaborate activities if they have the time, money, and resources, Piltz adds. Other ideas include rope courses, team adventures, treasure hunts, and cooking demonstrations. Big or small, though, the key component in any learning activity is maintaining the fun factor, which keeps people stimulated and involved, and also helps them retain information, he says.

Customizing activities for clients. When planning experiential learning, research first so you can customize activities based on your clients’ needs and interests. You don’t want to plan a rough-and-tumble obstacle course to demonstrate cooperation if your clients are non-athletic accountants who wear three-piece designer suits to meetings. Instead, that might be a better idea for your laid-back graphic design clients who wear jeans and sneakers to the office.

“There’s no one-fits-all solution,” says Piltz, adding that one client might enjoy an interactive quiz at the start of a business meeting while another might get bored with the activity. “You have to know your client.”

The purpose of customizing activities, he adds, is to ensure clients have a “light-bulb moment,” in which experiential learning has helped them understand a business concept or come up with a solution.

“Customize for your needs in the moment,” he says. “Typically, they will walk out with three to four ideas of what they can do.”

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