Monday, 5 October 2015

Rethinking Experience Based Events

I came across a thought-provoking diagram in a chapter entitled "Rethinking Experience Based Events" which I have reproduced here:
The authors described this as "exploratory" research in which they compare the perspectives of trainers who 'run' experience-based events with those of 'learners' who have been involved in them as participants. Their findings (represented in a copy of their diagram above) suggested that learners' experiences may not often correspond to the experiences which trainers attempt to 'design' through the use of 'structured experiences'. 

The arrows that appear to come from nowhere represent the many other influences on what participants experience. These influences might include: prior similar experiences, what happened on the previous exercise (or in the last hour), their motivations and individual objectives, the nature and quality of their relationships with other participants, what roles or responsibilities they take on during the exercise, how they think they are regarded by others, how much they trust the trainers and the course design, how much they are engaged or distracted, their overall expectations of the event, etc.

And the most important influence of all might be how responsible participants feel for their own learning. For example, do they make their own individual interpretations or do they they sit back during the review and let the trainer (or their fellow participants) steer their learning in a particular direction?

Whenever I have presented this diagram to trainers it lights up instant controversy. Some regard the boxed design to be the "correct" path ("the one we are paid to deliver") while others regard the "actual" or real pathways to be the only ones we can work with - because people learn from experiences they actually have rather than from experiences they were "supposed" to have had.

I love these discussions, but I do not take sides. This is because the "predicted" pathway is closer to the role of trainer and the "actual" pathway is closer to the role of the facilitator (who works with "real" experience). And most people I work with are trying to find an effective balance between these two roles.

One useful conclusion is that an effective trainer-facilitator can work with people where they are (what they are really experiencing) to help them get to where they want to go. A practical and versatile set of reviewing tools can help with this task.

An alternative conclusion is to consider the merits of involving participants in the choice and design of exercises. If participants have clear outcomes, they can work with the trainer to design exercises and processes that will help them reach their goals. John Heron has explored the merits of a co-operative approach to designing training exercises in "The Complete Facilitator" - which is surely the cue for another blog posting!

From my thoughts expressed above it should be no surprise that I welcome your comments. Exploring together works better.


Boot R, and Reynolds M. (1984) "Rethinking Experience Based Events" in Cox, C. and Beck, J. (1984) Management Development: Advances in Practice and Theory, Wiley.

Heron, J. (1999) The Complete Facilitator's Handbook. London: Kogan Page.