Lucy’s Kitbag – Episode 4 – The Value of Experiential Learning

Experiential learning outdoors teamscapes

So there I was lying face down in the mud helping to build a contraption to get my team safely over an electric fence. What on earth is she up to now? I can hear you say. Yes I am a Learning and Development Consultant for Thales Learning and Development (TLD). But this is all part of the job. My approach to my job is to meet, spend time with, experience and get to know all the people and organisations I work with (Customer and Supplier) and this little adventure is part of my induction into one of our key suppliers – Sundial Teamscapes.  

Together TLD and Teamscapes are a powerful combination. We are both experts in experiential learning. Teamscapes have been in the business for 50 years and I have been working with experiential learning for over 25 years now. In fact you could say I have been learning through experiential activities since I was about 4 years old. I was one of those children who ‘Learnt by Doing’; for those of you who know about Kolb’s Learning Styles – I am an activist/pragmatist. I grew up playing around the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland; I spent many hours exploring the countryside and engaging in adventurous activities, I played many sports and completed a Physical Education Degree at Loughborough University. I failed the 11+, had to work hard at school to get good results, struggled in Latin and was hopeless at Maths. So there you have it – my early life in a nutshell. However I managed to complete a full career in the Army, have many adventures and get an MBE in the process. I would say I was not suited to the education system of the 1980’s and as a result I have a passion for ‘Learning by Doing’ or Experiential Learning. I believe it is creative, engaging, and memorable, brings about true collaboration, and consistently releases greater results than the lone ranger.

Army trainingMy first formal introduction to experiential learning as an effective personal development method was during Officer training at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. I will never forget hanging from a wire 30 feet in the air trying to figure out how to get myself over a 2 metre gap and bring my whole team safely with me. I learnt to be courageous, overcome fears, innovative and bring groups together to become formidable teams that can overcome great challenges. This is why the military believe in this form of education – it hones the skills of young leaders through ‘stretch and challenge’. The key to success however is good facilitation. It took me many years to understand what that means and what a good facilitator does.

An experiential learning event in itself is useful, but when completed under the guidance of an expert facilitator who owns the learning process, the learners tap into deeper knowledge, resources and are supported to truly understand what they did to become a ‘High Performing Team’. The facilitator ensures the team players are clear about their challenge, undertake it in a safe way, have fun, but stop afterwards and reflect on what they have learnt. Each individual will sparkle afterwards like a diamond (as they used to say in the Army ‘a diamond is just a rock formed under pressure’). A diamond is a gem and the absolute gem in this is when the group links the learning back to their business.

Experiential learning is little use to businesses unless the learning leads to change back in the workplace and helps the organisation improve its performance. The facilitator guides the learners through a deeper understanding of what it means to be a High Performing Team. This is done through structured questioning and challenge and reflection.

Coaching and facilitation are essential skills for any trainer today and they are the key that unlocks true learning. Experiential learning is an excellent method to bring out deeper understanding of self, teams and performance through a memorable series of activities and excellent facilitation. So when you next talk to TLD, think about what you want to achieve and we will carefully design your training to meet the outcomes you are seeking. Be ready for challenge, we have moved a long way from PowerPoint presentations, prepare to learn in an environment that may be indoors or outdoors, use games, cake baking, chocolate making or war rooms. In partnership with Teamscapes our learning package will be memorable, but deeply changing for you workforce.

Now I will go and reflect on what I learnt at that electric fence in the snow at an old Coaching Inn near Northampton!