All Learning is Experiential

Learning is a result of grasping and transforming experiences. A marvelous thing happens when experience activates neurons.

Research suggests that when our brain neurons are activated, through an experience-based process, memory traces are formed. These traces also form networks in our brain. Learning cannot occur without grasping or transforming our memory traces.

The late Dr. Gerald Edelman, Nobel Laureate and former Director of the Neurosciences Institute, asserted that doing is prior to understanding. Since doing is experience-based, all learning is experiential.

So what learning tip can we offer?

Create a multi-faceted experience for your learners. The popular form of eLearning is only one type of experience. Classroom learning is another type of experience. Solving problems at work with colleagues is another type. Reading relevant materials is another. So is writing a research summary. The list goes on.

With a variety of experiences, our brain builds a more complex network of memory traces. In turn, we have an increased ability to grasp and transform experiences (i.e., learn) in order to think, reason, and make decisions.

About Parker Grant, PhD

Parker Grant is the founder of Instructional Design Industry, an online community for learning designers, instructional designers, and many other learning professionals (new and experienced). Parker holds a PhD in Adult Learning and a MS in Educational Technology. His consulting firm, Learning Connects, continues to offer learning design and development services.


  • Richard Skoonberg

    While in graduate school in ISD at Florida State, I asked my professor, Walt Wager, this simple question, What is learning? His response was just as simple. “We learn by doing and remember by practicing.” In the next 25 years of work as an instructional designer, it has become clear to me that people confuse learning with communication, and confuse understanding with the higher order thinking skills of analysis and synthesis. Learning by doing and remembering by practicing is really the only way we change the neurons and the pathways in our brains, which is, ultimately what learning is.

What are your thoughts?