The Surprising Evidence Behind Experiential Dementia Training

Experiential Learning is described as Learning by Doing

Learning by doing is not a new concept. Educators have long pointed to the exponentially powerful effects of this education model. American psychologist, professor and educational theorist David Kolb published his learning styles model in 1984, from which he developed his learning style inventory.

Kolb's experiential learning theory works on two levels: a four-stage learning cycle and four separate learning styles. Much of Kolb's theory is concerned with the learner's internal cognitive processes.

Kolb states that learning involves acquiring abstract concepts that can be applied flexibly in a range of situations. In Kolb's theory, the impetus for the development of new concepts is provided by new experiences."Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience" (Kolb, 1984, p. 38).

Experiential learning places the learner directly in touch with realities - learning by doing. It is a cycle where one experiences, reflect, thinks, and acts on new ideas. 

Kolb's research supports the theory that effective learning is seen when a person progresses through a cycle of four stages: of (1) having a substantial experience followed by (2) observation of and reflection on that Experience which leads to (3) the formation of abstract concepts (analysis) and generalizations (conclusions) which are then (4) used to test a hypothesis in future situations, resulting in new experiences.

How does this learning cycle translate into proven dementia training concepts?  

We should first acknowledge that one of the most significant challenges of caring for persons living with dementia is that we don't understand what is going on in their brains. Their thoughts, triggers, and how they respond to people, places, and things are complex. It is mysterious to families, loved ones and those who are providing care. It can be frightening to care for someone that we don't understand.   

At a foundational level, the core of effective dementia training that simulates what life might be like for someone living with dementia can be equivalent to walking in someone's shoes. This allows a person to see life through someone else's perspective. In the case of someone living with dementia, think about the myriad of challenges and emotions this might invoke: anger, boredom, feeling lost, terrified, annoyed, confused, foolish, irritated, silly, worried, anxious, depressed, frustrated, lonely, overwhelmed, tense or worthless. 

Can these complex and deep-seated emotions be taught effectively by listening to someone explain it OR by actually experiencing some of these emotions for one's self?  

Let's go back to Kolb's learning cycle, which supports the following key stages of the learning cycle and relate it to an active dementia training experiential training: 

1.Concrete Experience - a new experience or situation is encountered or a reinterpretation of existing experience.

Dementia Simulation Experience - a safe, life-like experience in which a learner is immersed in attempting to carry out tasks that evoke the complex emotions of someone living with cognitive changes.  

2. Reflective Observation of the New Experience - of particular importance are any inconsistencies between Experience and understanding.

The opportunity for the participant or learner to express one's feelings from the immersion experience allows for reflection and expressive sharing. 

3. Abstract Conceptualization reflection gives rise to a new idea or a modification of an existing abstract concept (the person has learned from their Experience).

This stage is the "light bulb" moment. When the Experience merges with feelings of empathy and understanding, there is a decisive point that can trigger caregiver empowerment. When a learner has gained valuable knowledge through the Experience, they are empowered with the essential skill of empathy and practical skill-building tools. 

4. Active Experimentation - the learner applies their idea(s) to the world around them to see what happens.

Positive change can only take place when skills are put into action. Because of the complex challenges of caring for persons with dementia, having effective, practical tools to tap into will propel the caregiver to further their abilities, gain confidence and grow in their caregiver duties, whether that is caring for a loved one or professional work. 

Think about the last time you listened to a lecture. One that you were deeply interested in the topic. A week later, what do you remember of the presentation? Edgar Dale was an American educator who developed the Cone of Experience, also known as the Learning Pyramid. His research reveals some surprising statistics:


  • 10% of what we read
  • 20% of what we hear
  • 30% of what we see
  •  50% of what we see and hear 70% of what we discuss with others 80% of what we personally      experience      
  • 95% of what we teach others

    At best, we would remember up to about 50% of the lecture or presentation. How long we retain that knowledge depends on many factors. According to, After one hour, people retain less than half of the information presented. After one day, people forget more than 70 percent of what was taught in training. After six days, people forget 75 percent of the information in their training. 

Applying what we know about how people learn and retain knowledge reinforces the importance of reviewing dementia training options not in terms of quantity as much as quality. In the age of information overload, we should strongly seek solutions for providing best practices, strong-outcome driven training that will ultimately lead to improved care and quality of life for people living with dementia.  

One vital foundational dementia training tool can simplify, streamline and prove more effective in supporting care receivers, staff, families, and business objectives.  

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