Experiential Learning Method

Document Sample
Experiential Learning Method Powered By Docstoc

 Volume 5                      Organizational strength through leadership                             January 2009

                    Experiential Learning Method
                    A learn-by-doing approach
                    By Helen Baxter-Southworth                        Experience: Creating a shared reality

   “Almost any      Your audience is zeroed in on you, hanging        Experiential learning, as its name implies,
                    on your every word and furiously jotting down     begins with an experience or activity of
 experience can     notes. This, you think, is going to be the most   almost any kind. The experience is the vehicle
                    effective training session ever. Maybe. Or        to illustrate the learning objectives and may
     be used        maybe not.                                        range from a lecture to role playing to an
                                                                      outdoor orienteering course to a real-time
                    The rapt attention of an audience is a sign
   to illustrate    the message is being well received in the
                                                                      team business meeting.

                    moment, but little else. The true value of that   Whatever the experience, it serves four vital
     almost         message, and corporate training in general,       functions:
                    becomes clear only later and is measured
  any learning      in how well those skills, knowledge, and              1.   Immerse participants in a situation
                    concepts transfer back to the workplace.                   focused on the target skills or
     point.”                                                                   concepts. It may also engage them in
                    Corporate trainers are often burdened with                 testing a proposed theoretical model.
                    tightly-packed learning modules designed to
                    quickly inoculate participants and get them           2.   Create a compelling situation for the
                    back to income-generating jobs. Spoon-                     participants to get “caught up in the
                    feeding, lecturing or even cheer leading to                act of being themselves.”
                    our learners is the result of our haste to get
                                                                          3.   Generate interest and motivate
                    through the “required” material. We are
                    understandably gratified and relieved when
                    the passive adult learner participates. But           4.   Generate a shared point of reference,
                    are they learning? That’s the big question                 data and language subsequent
                    that lingers in our minds and often goes                   stages in the process becomes an
                    unanswered.                                                essential shared point of reference to
                                                                               build on.
                    Research reveals that adults learn best under
                    certain conditions. They must be open to          Reflection: What just happened?
                    learning and the presented information must
                    be relevant to their lives and immediately        The next step in the process is reflection.
                    applicable to their personal goals and
                    challenges.                                       With the help of a skilled facilitator, the
                                                                      participants take an immediate look at their
                    One approach that creates these conditions        individual and group feelings and behaviors
                    while taking the guesswork out of training        during the experience. This begins when
                    is a process called “experiential learning.”      the facilitator asks the participants to recall
                    This systematic process introduces target         the events and behaviors that just occurred,
                    knowledge, skills and concepts using an initial   and to describe the “rules,” demands, or
                    experience reflective of the learner’s real       dynamics of the activity. Then participants are
                    life. The process is broken into four phases:     asked to reflect on the impact of their own
                    Experience, Reflection, Connection and            and others’ behaviors.
Timing is critical: Only when reflection occurs immediately after the                                                    clear to the facilitator before beginning,
experience can feelings and reactions of participants be easily accessed.                                                they may only reveal themselves to the
There is no need to “lead” an adult learner or to tell them what happened.                                               group as the reflection process ensues.
In fact, asking leading questions may cause defensive or resistant reaction.
Adults learn best in a climate of openness and respect. The skilled facilitator,                                         For example, if the target focus of an
then, asks simple, open-ended, recall questions:                                                                         activity is negotiation skills, attention
                                                                                                                         and questions might focus on bargaining
                                                                                                                         exchange and mutual interests. If,
•		 What	happened?                                                                                                       however, the focus of that very same
•		 What	were	the	results?                                                                                               activity is building team trust, questions
                                                                                                                         might focus on forthright communication.
•		 Did	“roles”	emerge?	What	were	they?
                                                                                                                         Because the feelings, actions and
•		 Who	played	what	roles?	                                                                                              statements made during the experience
•		 	 ow	did	that	make	you	feel	during	the	experience?
    H                                                                                                                    will serve as the basis for ultimate
                                                                                                                         learning, it is important to “publish” or
•		 	 hat	kinds	of	attitudes,	beliefs,	or	assumptions	governed	your	                                                     record observations of the participants.
    behaviors?                                                                                                           The facilitator does this by transcribing
                                                                                                                         answers to questions for all to see—on
                                                                                                                         a large white board, perhaps—but while
Keep in mind that almost any experience can be used to illustrate almost
                                                                                                                         staying out of the content. This means the
any	learning	point.	However,	the	questions	used	to	debrief	must	be	tied	to	
                                                                                                                         facilitator does not correct the participant
relevant learning objectives. And while these learning objectives must be
                                                                                                                         and pauses only when necessary to ensure
                                                                                                                         accuracy. These verbatim comments
                                                                                                                         help the group own and remember these
Experiential Learning Method
                                                                                                                         important, first reactions and will be used
                                                                                                                         as “data” to validate upcoming teaching
                                                                                                                         points in the process.
                                                     Experience                                                          Facilitators should, however, encourage
                                               Creates interest & motivates learning                                     participants to progress in their critical
                                                   Reflects real-life challenges                                         thinking beyond simple recall—to analyze
                                                     Illustrates target learning                                         or process aloud their observations
                                                   Compels participant to get                                            and insights about the experience. For
                                              “caught in the act of being him/herself”                                   instance, the facilitator may ask:
                                                    Creates shared experience
                                                   Generates shared language                                             •	   W
                                                                                                                              	 ere	there	any	recurring	themes	
                                                                                                                              or patterns in personal or group
          Projection                                                                     Reflection                           behaviors?
                                                   LA XPE

         Now What?                                                                        What?                              W
                                                                                                                         •		 	 as	there	any	cause-and-effect	
                                                     BO RIE
                                                       RA NC

         Focus on transfer of learning                                                                                       between behaviors and personal
                                                                                  Debrief or unpack the experience
                                                          TO E

     Project into the future – back at work                                                                                  feelings?

                                                                                     Describe what just occurred
        See yourself using target skill,
                                                               RE PE

                                                                                 Recall personal feelings & reactions
                                                                 AL RIE

        knowledge or concept at work                                           Describe behaviors & sequence of events   At this point in the reflection process
                                                                    LIF NC

       Encourage public declaration of                                               Analyze patterns of behavior        some evaluation may also take place,
                                                                       E E

               commitment to act                                                   Evaluate what worked & did not        prompted by questions such as:
         Identify potential roadblocks
                                                                                                                         •		 	 iven	the	experience	and	the	desired	
                                               Connection                                                                    outcome, what worked?
                                                So What?                                                                 •		 What	did	not	work?
                                          Shift focus to workplace realities                                             •		 What	hindered	performance?
                                          Determine relevance to real life
                                       Compare & contrast with work realities                                            •		 What	helped	performance?
                                      Assess effectiveness of behaviors at work
  Facilitating Disciplined Reflection

  Any experience can be a catalyst for learning. All                                          Experience
  that is needed is a skilled facilitator and the use of                                           Lecture, Game
  a conscious, disciplined reflection and discovery                                           Problem-solving scenario
  process. Use the four-step process below to                                                     Work group task
  “debrief” a personal or group experience which                                                   Team challenge
  illustrates the individual or group development                                                     Role-play
  opportunity.                                                                                Personal style assessment
                                                                                                      Case study
When this reflection phase has                                                                      Team meeting
been successfully completed, the
group should have not only a shared
                                                        Projection                                                                Reflection
experience, but also a common,

                                                                                             LA XPE
                                                       Now What?                                                                   What?

                                                                                               BO RIE
personalized language to describe it –

                                                                                                 RA NC
not the facilitator’s or textbook jargon.           How might & where you apply the                                                What just happened?

                                                                                                    TO E
Participants will also have personal                                                                                                  How did it feel?

                                                  learnings (re-learnings) back at work?
feelings about their own involvement.                                                                                       What were the results? The causes?

                                                                                                         RE PE
                                                 What’s most likely to de-rail your good

                                                                                                           AL RIE
This sense of personal involvement,                intentions to apply these learnings?                                    What “rules” governed your behavior?

                                                                                                              LIF NC
ownership and experience is a critical           What will support your good intentions?                                           The group’s behavior?

                                                                                                                 E E
component to learning. The stage                                                                                              Did roles or behavior patterns
has now been set to shift from a                                                                                                         emerge?
“laboratory” experience to “real life”
                                                                                            So What?
Connection: From “So what?”
                                                                                    How does this experience compare
to “Ah, ha!”
                                                                                       and/or contrast to “real life”?
In this next step of the Experiential                                               Did you or others behave as you or
Learning Method, participants are                                                    they might back at work? How so?
asked to step back and away from the                                              How are the “rules” & results of this expe-
completed experience and shift to the                                                       rience like the rules &
workplace realities. They are challenged                                                       results at work?
to make a connection between the
exercise they have just described and
their personal life. To facilitate this, the
leader may refer to the group’s reflection     situation?	Do	these	behaviors	repeat	themselves	at	the	workplace?	Is	this	
recorded comments and ask questions            laboratory experience relatable to life or work experience?
such as:
                                               Keep in mind that it is not the facilitator’s job to evaluate the learner’s
                                               success or failure. It is up to the learner to evaluate his or her own progress
•		 	s	this	experience	anything	like	your	     toward self-chosen goals. To encourage this, the facilitator may ask the
    environment at work or the context         participant to reflect directly on this. For example:
    in which you live?
•		 	 ave	your	behaviors	or	attitudes	
    H                                              H
                                               •		 	 ow	does	your	behavior	or	attitude	affect	your	effectiveness	or	that	of	
    ever been described in these terms             your	team?	How	to	does	it	affect	the	quality	of	your	relationships?
    in the “real world?”
                                               •		 	 re	you	achieving	your	desired	results	with	these	behaviors,	attitudes	
•		 	 id	you	or	the	other	participants	
    D                                              and beliefs?
    act in any way like you might behave
                                               •		 	s	the	organization	achieving	its	desired	results?	Why	or	why	not?
    back at work?
                                               •		 	 hat	behaviors	have	been	affirmed	here	that	you	need	to	continue	and	
•		 	 re	the	“rules”	of	this	experience	at	
    all like the “rules” or assumptions
    you operate under back at work? If         •	   W
                                                    	 hat	did	you	do	here	that	you	realize	is	helpful?	What	is	not	helpful?
    so, what are the similarities? If not,
    what are the differences?                  Successes and failures alike are opportunities for learning, and the adult
                                               learner knows best his or her own “teachable moments.” The role of the
To borrow a scientific metaphor, in this       facilitator is to guide the adult to reflect on their learning opportunity.
stage we are testing the validity of our       Any response on the part of the participant is useful. A seasoned facilitator
experiment. That is, how applicable is         knows to “Trust the process.” This simply means that there will be learning
this experience to a more generalized
in every engagement. It just may not be the same                This final step, projection, is what we are hired to
learning the facilitator came in to teach or the learner        deliver as facilitators, trainers and coaches. This phase
came to learn.                                                  is designed to push the adult to visualize, imagine and
                                                                project mentally using the target skill or knowledge on
If, despite the questions and introspection, there turns        the job. It is the application of the sentiment, “If you can
out to be no connection between the exercise and reality,       see it, you can do it.”
the	facilitator	might	ask:	“How	is	what	happened	here	
different than reality?” The contrasting description still      For maximum efficacy, learners need the opportunity
provides useful information.                                    to try out their new skills quickly, and to apply it to
                                                                an immediate problem or opportunity. The facilitator
The connection stage is designed to help the learner            can help identify a time and place where they can
become aware of the relevance of the target skills and          immediately apply the target skill. To do this, they might
concepts to his or her real life. The critical thinking         ask:
questions in this phase are designed to highlight
behavior patterns we take for granted or may have never
taken the time to analyze.                                          H
                                                                •		 	 ow	can	you	remind	yourself	of	the	good	intentions	
                                                                    you have arrived at here?
Projection: Now What?
                                                                •		 	 hat	barriers	are	you	likely	to	confront	that	might	
Thus far, the learning group has engaged in an                      derail your good intentions?
experience and discussed its relevance in their lives in        •	   	How	can	you	make	this	skill	usage	a	habit?
class—but what now? The return on the investment is
realized only when the learner decides to transfer the
new knowledge, skill or ability back to the workplace. This     Engaging a crowd with a dynamic Power Point
begins in the final “projection” phase of the Experiential      presentation may feel like training, but to be truly
Learning Method.                                                effective, facilitators need to utilize more innovative,
                                                                interactive ways to transfer knowledge, skills and
In this phase, participants “project” into the future—          concepts from the training room to real life. When we
seeing themselves in their mind’s eye applying the new          find ourselves tight on time and overwhelmed, we must
skill or concept. Participants are encouraged to make           remind ourselves of the learner’s needs for relevance,
decisions and public declarations regarding future              self-evaluation and self-direction. The Experiential
actions.                                                        Learning Method fulfills all of these needs, ensuring that
Adult learners must reach their own conclusions and             ultimate lesson is not only received, but implemented.
feel sufficiently confident in their ability to apply the
knowledge with only limited exposure to failure. The
payoff must be obvious. To guide the learner to this
insight, the facilitator might ask:
                                                                Knowles, Malcom. The Adult Learner: A Neglected Species. Houston:	
                                                                Gulf Publishing Company, 1978
•		 	 ow	might	you	apply	these	skill	sets	elsewhere?
                                                                What kinds of questions do you hear yourself asking? Adapted from
•		 	 ow	have	the	skills	that	have	been	helpful	in	this	
                                                                Bloom & Krathwohl.
    “laboratory” experience be transferred back at home
    or work?
•		 	 hat	patterns	of	personal	behavior	are	not	useful	or	
    effective and might be discontinued in the future?
•		 	 hat	newly	learned	skills	could	you	incorporate?	
An effective facilitator will not let the participant off the
hook with platitudes and generalities such as, “I’ll have
to be more open,” or “I’ll have to treat the customer with
more respect.” Challenge the participant to get specific
with prompts such as:
•		 What	might	you	say?
•		 	 ho	is	most	likely	to	challenge	these	new	                                             10490 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Suite 280
    behaviors?                                                                                  Columbia, Maryland 21044
                                                                                                    Phone: 410.531.3571
                                                                                                      Fax: 410.531.2275
                                                                                                Email: info@hbsassoc.com
                                                                & ASSOCIATES,           LLC      www. hbsassociates.com