Thursday, 2 July 2015

What learning happens when?

This question follows on from my question "When Does Experiential Learning Happen?". One of my answers was that learning happens through facilitated reflection during the review.

It may come as a surprise to those skilled in the art of questioning that a lot of reflective learning happens before you begin to enquire about feelings or reasons.

Eye-opening can be eye-opening!


For example, the whole area of mindfulness is based on noticing and increased awareness. The question "What did you notice?" is all I ask on an observation walk.This works well for blind people too because you can notice with many different senses. Ski instructors regularly encourage their students to notice how their weight is distributed on their skis. Timothy Gallwey's "Inner Game of Tennis", Herrigel's "Zen and the Art of Archery" and many other "Inner Game" and "Zen and the Art" books show how much can be gained from simply noticing - as does McDougall's "Born to Run".

Of course, "What did you notice?" can readily lead to more sophisticated questions. But sometimes simply noticing leads to performance improvement. In a group setting new learning can readily arise from each person sharing what caught their attention. Watching a video of yourself as a leader or presenter or facilitator helps you to see what the camera sees. Performance improvement is not guaranteed, but I am continually surprised by how the pathway from awareness to change can be a short one that needs little extra reflection or assistance.

If you prompt participants to express their feelings they may well develop greater empathy or learn more about the impact of their behaviour on others - for good or ill. This is the territory of sensitivity group training, emotional intelligence, relationship counselling and sales training. It is also the territory of experiential learning because we have such an interest in what participants experience. We go on long journeys or build elaborate outdoor gyms or visit awe-inspiring places to generate certain kinds of experiences. If we know what participants have really experienced we may be better able to take them further on their learning journey. But simply sharing experiences develops sensitivity, empathy, trust, relationships, respect, friendship and a whole range of communication skills including story-telling.

All these learning benefits and we have only asked two questions:
1. "What did you notice?"
2. "What did you experience?"

We have yet to dig into our vast bank of facilitative questions but maybe we have already completed the most significant part of someone's learning journey?

Perhaps the most significant learning sometimes results from the most simple and basic questions?

This post by Roger Greenaway was first published in Experiential-CPD a monthly listing of UK CPD events.

When does experiential learning happen?

When does learning happen in experience-based programmes?

Does it mostly happen before, during or after the activities?

Or does it mostly happen during or after the post-activity review – or later still?

I'd suggest that learning can happen at any time such as ...

Before the activity: learning before doing
Learning can happen before the activity especially when the activity is being used as a means to check, verify, rehearse or practise what has already been learned but not yet put into practice. Doing the activity might lead to some small refinements but the main purpose of doing the activity would be for application and consolidation.

During the activity: learning through doing
Any reflection that happens during the activity is a natural (or even essential) part of the activity such as when working on a new challenge. During most activities people will be thinking and talking, reflecting and communicating even when their main focus is the activity itself.

After the activity: learning through unfacilitated reflection
If there is a gap between the activity and the review, participants may be reflecting about the activity on their own or they me be informally sharing their stories, feelings or opinions with others. Or they may be anticipating the review and even preparing for it in some way (such as the leader who feels they have let the team down)..

During the review: learning through facilitated reflection
Some of this reflection may be on what has already been learned, but reviewing is far more than a recap of learning. The main function of a review is to bring out new learning by facilitating reflection on activities and experiences during the reviewing process.

After the review: learning through informal reflection
A review may not be a tidy wrapping up process in which the learning is neatly packaged and labelled with no loose ends to tie up and no unfinished business. In fact a review can stir things up and leave people full of curiosity, perhaps puzzled about the feedback they received, or still inspired by an 'aha' moment of insight. This might lead to further conversations outside the review session or some thinking time alone.

After the programme: learning back in the real world
This is often the stage when classroom (or off-the-job) learning is tried out for real. If there is little need for new learning when applying what was learned, the situation is similar to 1 above. But if the application is more of an exploration or experiment then it can be a significant continuation of the learning process.

But if you are under the spell of almost any theory of experiential learning you could be forgiven for being under the misapprehension that learning happens at just one stage of a multi-stage cycle.

Let's wake up to the many different opportunities for learning that experience offers - before, during, after and even long after the most intense part of the experience.

This post by Roger Greenaway was first published in Experiential-CPD a monthly listing of UK CPD events.

Moving, Thinking and Learning

Rodin's thinker sits with his head bowed, forehead resting on his clenched fist. This is the classic static thinking pose. But other poses are also available: for example, lying on the grass and looking up at the sky can work quite well. So can going out for a walk – alone or with someone to help you think things through. Some famous thinkers (Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens, for example) have done their best thinking while walking. Other people find it easier to think if they have something in their hands – pen and paper for writing or sketching, or play objects, or models. Some people find that performing an activity needing little mental effort somehow enhances their conscious thinking: Sherlock Holmes famously played his violin to help him solve crimes. In Minority Report or Silent Witness you see investigators moving objects around on a screen: by physically rearranging the data they discover new patterns and possibilities that can create breakthroughs in thinking. Perhaps real world example are more convincing? Such as Google's playrooms that encourage movement and playing with objects in order help employees find the next breakthrough. And the same is true for young children the world over: our most rapid period of learning involves exploratory movement and manipulation of objects. Movement and thinking are great playmates at all ages.


So when you want people to think deeply about past, present or future, consider using physical movement and physical objects to help them think more deeply or creatively.


You will find more on this subject in How movement can help thinking and learning in the Guide to Active Reviewing