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What's the right setting for delivering Experiential Learning content?

What's the right setting for delivering Experiential Learning content?

In the blog I wrote last month I tried to address some of the assumptions about experiential learning that seem to be getting in the way of people including elements of this approach in their programming. It seems that the most pervasive of these assumptions is about the physical spaces that are needed to deliver effective experiential content. To back up the observations I made last month I'm going to use this blog to respond to a comment I often hear:


"I'd love to include some experiential content, but I just don't have the right spaces to do it."


First, let's move away from the idea that experiential learning necessarily involves people leaving their chairs and moving around. A lot of good practice we see does include an element of physical activity, but experiential learning is, by definition, a methodology that can be applied in pretty much any environment that allows participants to interact with one another. That's why I was clear last month that it's about structured learning experiences - outdoors, indoors, via a screen - it's not the setting, it's the learning approach that makes it experiential. If you have interaction between participants in a facilitated session you've structured according to Kolb's 4 stages, then what you're delivering is experiential learning.


If you accept that the key to delivering quality experiential content is not the setting but the methodology it ceases to be a limitation and opens the door to some intriguing possibilities. Here are some ideas for realising the potential of experiential activity with flexibility.


Imagine you're working in a hotel or conference centre with good space around it, you've planned to use e.g. Webmaster or Simbols indoors - if the weather's right why not just deliver that session outdoors? It's not a decision that needs a lot of pre-planning, just a quick check on permissions and safety and it can easily happen. (A quick tip here - booking a tennis court at a hotel doesn't always mean you're going to play tennis).


Imagine you're deep into a programme that has a lot of content that needs deep thought and reflection from the participants - and they're feeling it! Why not throw in an energising activity to raise spirits and recharge batteries? Rather than an outdoor walk or a physical-movement session why not introduce an activity that offers both physical and mental exercise (there are lots of suitable activity options in RSVP's Outdoor Pack - Keypunch is a favourite of mine). That way your people come back to the programme comprehensively ready to re-engage.


Imagine you have a programme that needs participants to exercise their creativity if the learning objectives are to be realised. For many people creativity is a challenge, sadly it's just not something that many people are used to applying to their lives. Introducing regular, short-duration activities into your programme, as warm-ups, energisers, or review activities, can help people to access the creative parts of their brain. There are loads of options for activities that would work here, check out our Creativity Module or Breakthrough Thinking packs for ideas. Importantly for my message, a great many of these creativity tasks don't require people to move away from their chairs (though people will usually thank you for allowing them to do so). You could combine a bit of groupwork, a breath of fresh air, and a fun competitive activity by sending small teams out for a 10-minute walk with a Mystery Object. Tell them to come back with a brilliant idea for how they might use their object and give each team an opportunity to pitch their idea to the others in a 'Dragon's Den' (or Shark Tank for US readers!) scenario.


I could go on generating ideas like this for a long time, they're all tactics I've employed over many years of delivering corporate experiential learning programmes. The key is to look at venue and setting as offering you opportunities rather than imposing restrictions. If you're energised by what you're delivering, there's a good chance that this will be picked up by participants leading to more learning and more programme satisfaction.


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