By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Craig Wallace

Story of The Wizard of Oz is a wonderful metaphor for experiential learning. It shows how each character shared an experience yet received a different learning or meaning from it. In experiential learning programs each person is exposed to the same experience but may take away a different learning based on their perceptions, desired outcomes and their learning styles.

Carl Rogers (1994) wrote that learning is facilitated when: ‘(1) the student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction, (2) it is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems, and (3) self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success.’

Experiential learning is one type of instructive strategy for learning. It isn’t an alternative approach, but possibly the most traditional and fundamental method of human learning. Ironically, the current perception of experiential education as (a fringe modality) different is possibly due to the normalisation of didactic teaching as the mainstream educational model.

Traditional, unidirectional, didactic learning paradigms have dominated Western learning for centuries. Traditionally an instructor might prepare content and spend most of the time on delivering that content. Whereas an experiential facilitator may have a few key concepts and a framework for delivery, but not limit themselves to that content alone. In true experiential learning the facilitator provides opportunities for interaction, feedback and making choices so that learning is active and individualised.

So is experiential learning for everybody? Here are some key concepts that may help you decide.

Firstly, conventional, didactic training is for you if you prefer:

  • Trainer centred, theoretical, prescribed lessons, with fixed design and content.
  • Delivery that transfers and explains knowledge and skills
  • Fixed and structured delivery style – often via powerpoint presentations, chalk and talk style, class reading, lectures, observation and theoretical work.
  • Measureable and fixed outcomes

In contrast Experiential Learning (EL) is for you if…

You believe the learner is central

You are ready, willing and able to become personally involved in the process. You are prepared to actively engage in both the activity / challenge and the reflective process, determine your meaning / context to the messages and then apply the learning back to your team or organisational context. In the Wizard of Oz each of the characters engaged fully in the journey yet, had their own personal learning by the end.

You’re able to hold back your pre-judgement to learning experiences

Because the human element is involved, we all take slightly different meanings from any single event. In fact, depending on your perception, events can provide diametrically opposed learnings for individuals. Coming with prejudices leads to distraction by your personal thoughts, and a lack of appreciation for other learners and their views. Judgements can be about yourself as well as others. In the Wizard of Oz the characters held judgements about their courage, intelligence and compassion. Their own character judgements were actually different to their true selves and held them back in many ways.

You are flexible on when the ‘real’ learning comes

It can take time to develop the safety within the training group and confidence of individuals to get to the key messages or core of the learning. EL is for you if your prepared to take time with success with smaller areas first, progressing to the point that you can consider raising and tackling more fundamental issues. Once again in the Wizard of Oz the characters experienced learning that was not what they were expecting in terms of content and timing, but the learning was powerful and relevant nevertheless.

You’re able to engage in experiences that are real – not based on artificial impact

The purpose of an EL activity is to create an opportunity for valuable and memorable personal leaning. The ideal activity will engage, stimulate and challenge while you become absorbed in the task as yourself. You must be able to be yourself in the experience and not take on an artificial persona.

You see the value in meaningful reviews and reflection.

The ideal review will involve you in personal thought, challenge and discussion before coming to some form of conclusion. If it is to be of real benefit, the review must be an honest critique of what happened and the contributions and challenges of each individual. Real issues should not be swept under the carpet, but discussions must be positive, constructive and entered into in a spirit of ownership, accountability and responsibility.  You must be willing and able to engage positively in those discussions with the intent to learn, not blame, deny or justify.

You don’t expect the facilitator to be the font of knowledge.

Experiential learners are able to take ownership of their own learning. Looking for a ‘professional analysis’ from the facilitator, or a structured outline of what you should be learning means that the experience is delivered from the facilitator’s point of view. The facilitator should be able to guide the discussion, reflection and outcomes in the learners’ context meaning and point of view. This point is illustrated perfectly in the Wizard of Oz. The characters abdicated or projected their own wisdom and knowledge onto the Wizard, but didn’t realise what they needed was within them all along. This is often a realisation within EL programs.

You have faith in your ability to learn.

You believe that you have the potential to make progress and be committed to the fact that your role is to engage and reflect on the opportunities to learn and progress.

You don’t expect traditionally assessed and measured outcomes.

EL is largely about learning at your own pace and taking your own meaning (individual or team meaning). Whilst it is proven to lead to better understanding, behaviours, changes, learning can be difficult to measure via conventional assessment measures alone.

You see learning as cooperative and interactive.

EL is for you if you prefer cooperation, participation, challenge and fun over winning, competing and alienation. Sometimes we learn by watching others journeys and by having them actively involved in ours. Feedback based on real interaction with others is often more of an assessment than an exam will ever be.

You are able to learn through experience.

Whilst there are various learning styles, an effective learning program incorporates other styles as well as EL. EL provides development of knowledge, skills and deeper understanding through physical activities, games and exercise, simulations, drama and role play that become real, and actually doing the task or job. It’s the emotional connection that comes with experiences that gives learners the personal motivation for change and ability to retain the memory and transfer the learning. EL is for you if you can appreciate and work within those type of learning experiences.

To discover more about how True North Learning uses advanced Experiential Learning methodologies and approaches to enhance the learning of your teams and leaders visit us at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/pages/experiential-learning-methodology.php