The Learn-by-Doing Philosophy originated from American philosopher John Dewey and was further developed by several renowned organisations such as Toyota Motor Company and IBM.


It simply refers to a hands-on, problem-based approach to learning and is seen as an optimal approach to personal and organisational growth.

Here, we explore what makes this approach so successful…

Discovery vs Instruction – the double-edged sword

Which is more effective: discovery learning or direct instruction? It’s an endless debate and one that has been researched to death by psychologists for decades. Findings have presented opposing conclusions – some suggesting that discovery has a more positive cognitive impact and others suggesting that instruction-based learning is most effective.

Instructions start off with clear objectives and can often be well articulated, providing clear guidance but often restrictive. Discovery learning is seen as a more active learning method drawing upon one’s existing knowledge to pose questions and solve problems.

Based on our experience in the workplace and the research analysis, we are leaning towards an approach of ‘guided discovery’. Setting a clear vision, objectives and strategy is essential to ensure that your workforce is headed in the right direction and understand their purpose. There is no point leaving people to discover aimlessly as their discoveries may have no relevance. Once pointing everybody in the right direction, giving them the full autonomy to discover through the learn-by-doing approach can allow for innovation beyond expectation. It encourages teams to take an active role in their learning environment and makes the process more meaningful. Providing instructional assistance to accompany discovery-based learning can pay huge dividends in terms of growth.

Experience vs Textbook

There are two main ways of attaining knowledge, one is from written text in books and the other is from real-life experience. It is true that not everything that is learned is contained in books, or else we would never see new books released with new teachings. Someone somewhere has experienced something to be able to share it with others. Experiences provide more than just visible and audible perceptions; they touch all of our senses and provide context. For example, could you learn how to drive a car through reading textbooks? Probably not – you need to sit behind the steering wheel and be on the road, experiencing other drivers to be able to respond and adapt accordingly.

The same principle applies in the workplace. Too often, organisations deliver training using textbooks or presentation slides which are almost the digital equivalent. You will have heard the phrase “death by PowerPoint” – it’s all too familiar. Instead, more experiential learning needs to be introduced. It allows for socio-emotional and cognitive development and is proven to be more effective in making knowledge ‘stick’. Books are hugely valuable as they cover comprehensive knowledge and provide useful theories; the suggestion isn’t to ignore them, but to incorporate the theories within them into experience-based learning.

Learning through Play

It has been well-known for many years, particularly within educational settings, that learning through play allows one to develop imagination and creativity. Play is one of the main ways in which children learn and develop and it is no different for adults. Not only is playing fun, it also boosts mental wellbeing, resilience and an ability to deal with stress. It stimulates problem solving and creativity.

Organisations such as Google have mastered the balance between work and play. If you look at any of Google’s offices, they have incorporated play into their workplace design, including climbing walls, video gaming and volleyball.  The learn-by-doing approach allows for play as part of the learning experience. To quote psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, “Play is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”

Trial and Error

Thomas Edison would have never invented the incandescent light bulb had he not had an opportunity to try and fail numerous times. His famous quote, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” says it all. He was also quoted saying “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps” when questioned by a reporter.

Great success is built on failure. The learn-by-doing approach builds in the risk of failure but sees this as a positive element of the learning process rather than a negative. When you look back at your life journey, you’ve probably learned more from the bad decisions you’ve made than from the good decisions. Allow people to make mistakes and reward them for trying so that they are encouraged to try again.

At CI Projects, we are committed to employee development and harnessing a culture of continuous learning. In January this year, we introduced a ‘Time to Learn’ initiative which allows all team members to share their experiences, methods and resources; as our diverse workforce bring a wealth of skills and experience from different backgrounds which we can all learn from. It provides the opportunity to reflect on culture, environment and everybody’s individual needs. We encourage the learn-by-doing approach in everything we do, and this is evident in our hands-on approach to driving change and project delivery.

Do you embrace the learn-by-doing approach? Have you embedded a learning culture within your organisations? We’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This