Monday, 15 September 2008

Experiential Learning

I came across an interesting presentation on TED today by Jonathan Drori called "Why we don’t understand as much as we think we do".

It asks what appear to be some basic science questions that most people can't answer. For example "Could you draw a diagram of the solar system showing the shape of the planets' orbits?"

Interestingly people mostly get the answer wrong (I did). Jonathan emphasises the points that quite often we teach theories without really spending much or any time actually playing around with things to see if the theory actually makes sense. If we are told something then we generally will accept it and then even find examples that reinforce the belief.

Why is this relevant to learning & development? It made me think about the folowing important factors to consider when designing some learning:
  • It is really important to give people the opportunity to try stuff out for themselves. Tell them about a new approach, technique, theory or concept but let people make their own connections. 
  • You may need people to 'unlearn' things before they can take on a new concept. We are creatures of habit and like to do things the same way. Create an environment that encourages people to try something new but also show them that there are benefits to doing things differently - give them a carrot.
  • Be clear that you can only give them a taste of the real thing in a learning environment and it is back in the real world where the real learning will take place You can learn about things on a course but the real learning takes place when you get back to work. People need support back in the work place to both reinforce the learning and to stop the old habits slipping back. Without support the training will have minimal impact on performance.
  • Ensure that the people providing support are actually involved in the course, ideally in delivering it. You want to make sure that a consistent message is being applied. If they can't be involved then make sure they are briefed appropriately.
So, another question from Jonathan:

"How does an aircraft's wing create lift?...........and ensure you explain how planes can fly upside down"!


Training Time said...

Unlearning is one of the most important steps in the learning process, but often overlooked. To learn something new, many people have to unlearn an old habit to allow new ideas in.

I also agree that it is important to let people try things out for themselves. "Learning by doing" is the best training method for a lot of people out there. While formalized training is still necessary, throwing someone "into the fire" can be just as effective in some situations.

Robyn McMaster said...

The human brain stores schemas and routines in its basal ganglia. We go back to that again and again because we get into a "comfort zone" with that which is familiar and easy to us. That's one big reason it's so easy to fall back to the old ruts.

Chris Morgan said...

Yes I guess that is human nature - we try to figure out ways to do things and when we find something that works we do it over and over again. This is fine unless the environment around us changes......which it does all the time!

Marc Humphries said...

Hi Chris,

A aeroplane flies because the shape of the wing section (aerofoil)created a pressure differential. A fixed mass of air is split as the wing moves forward and half of it moves across the curved top half of the section - and half along the flat (or flatter) bottom. So... if a fixed mass of air is having to travel further across a curved surface - then it's pressure must be reduced. So there is less air pressure on the top half of the wing - and greater pressure on the bottom. This is what causes a wing to provide lift - providing it has a sufficient force moving it forward to generate more lift than the aircraft's mass. Tee Hee. Nice blog by the way

Chris Morgan said...

Marc - thanks for your expert technical input!

berry said...

Learning through experience is best when combined with some ormal training as well. Our clients get the chance to try something different in teams such as cookery, but the ones who get the most from it are those that are prepared to spend the time looking a the outcomes and lessons to take back to the office