Learn Best by Doing
Facilitate learning with "experiences"
teachers and trainers, you've probably noticed that people really
learn better through "experience" than by simply listening
to talk about theory or practice. For almost any situation, you
can develop an experience to either instruct or model the learning
you're trying to facilitate.
instance, if a group wants to improve the way it solve problems,
you can give them a problem and observe their problem-solving
process. Debriefing this will tell you, and them, volumes about
why they are or aren't having success solving other problems.
have teamwork problems, get them doing something in groups and
debrief their process of working together. How a group works together
will show up in anything they do together, dysfunctional patterns
want to help a group learn to communicate better, why not get
them to communicate with each other about something relevant to
them, then help them discover what works and what doesn't about
their communication style. They'll learn much more about communication
theory AFTER they've found holes in their own process.
Through to the Core
The idea of kicking off a learning segment with an experience
or exercise is further validated by the work of Reldan S. Nadler
and John L. Luckner in their book, "Processing The Adventure
Experience: Theory and Practice." In this book, the authors
discuss the value of inducing a state of disequilibrium--a state
of internal conflict resulting from a mismatch between old ways
of thinking and new information--that provides motivation for
an individual to make personal changes. "By involving one
in an experience that is beyond one's comfort zone, individuals
are forced to integrate new knowledge or reshape existent perceptions.
This is the basis for accelerating and promoting change into
a persons' life."
on to speak about learning and anxiety, "There is a direct
relationship between learning and anxiety. In the psychological
literature many authors call this change condition different
things. Alfred Bandura called it "emotional arousal,"
Fritz Perls called it "frustration," and Illya Prigogine
called it "chaos or fluctuations." Anxiety causes
people to get out of their comfort zone and use new behaviors
to lessen the anxiety. This process breaks through the wall
of defenses (denial, super responsibility, anger, humor, perfectionism,
intellectualization, aggression, charming, control, blaming,
denial) to the core feeling (inadequacy, loneliness, rejection,
hurt, love, fear, embarrassment, helplessness, sadness) and
thus enhances a persons' ability to embrace change."
The Experiential Learning Cycle
A learning facilitation model I've used consistently is one called
the "Kolb Learning Cycle," which includes the following
four-parts: 1) Experience, 2) Analyze, 3) Generalize, and 4) Apply.
I find this cycle useful because it starts by providing an experience,
the processing of which can elicit learning on all levels--physical,
mental, emotional, and spiritual--and address the different perceptual
and processing styles. Let’s review each phase of the cycle below.
Experience. Activities are presented first to evoke an experience
that inspires later discussion around your training focus. Though
the content of these activities is usually less important than
the behaviors they evoke, you’ll usually increase student involvement
by offering activities relevant to their learning goals, taking
care to inform them of this relevance up front. For example,
if a group is having problems working as a team, get them doing
something in groups and debrief their process of working together.
This will often induce a state of disequilibrium or internal
conflict in the form of frustration, anxiety, fear, etc. as
we discussed above, thus revealing the emergence of habitual
operating patterns. Facilitating focus on mental and emotional
reactions to the exercises provides a richer and more personally
relevant spectrum of learning.
2) Analyze. As learning
facilitators, we know that one's process is modeled in their
action and reaction to the exercises. For example, if one tends
to take the lead in an exercise, they probably tend to take
the lead in life. If one tends to sabotage their success in
an exercise, it's likely that they tend to sabotage their success
in life as well. In other words, a person tends to "show
up" the same everywhere, whether in a simple exercise or
in a major life or work challenge.
At the conclusion
of each activity, we give students the opportunity to reflect
on and analyze their feelings, thoughts, and actions to increase
awareness of their operating patterns. You’re role will be primarily
to ask questions and reflect back your understanding of what
they’re saying. Sometimes, journaling or small group discussions
are used to assist in the self-reflection process, deepen awareness,
and to involve additional senses and learning styles.
During this phase
of the learning cycle, you may guide the content of the debrief
by the questions you ask. Hence the same exercise may draw out
different types of learning based on your line of questioning.
For example, if you
do an activity that requires a group to express itself extemporaneously,
your questions around presentation skills will tend to bring
out learning in that arena. If you ask questions about team-building
skills, you’ll bring out learning on teamwork. The key with
questions is to formulate them in light of your learning goals,
and while observing and listening to your students.
Here are some generic
debrief questions that are almost always relevant:
Ø What did you notice about this experience?
Ø How did you feel about it?
Ø Did you notice any familiar behavioral patterns, in
yourself or the group?
Ø What did you notice about your (presentation, teamwork,
communication, problem-solving, etc.) skills?
Ø Where else in your life do you see this pattern?
Ø How would you approach this exercise if you had it
to do over again?
By having one reflect
on an experience that challenged their comfort zone, individuals
may have the opportunity to integrate new knowledge or reshape
existent perceptions. This is the basis for accelerating and
promoting change in a person’s life.
3) Generalize. This
is about making meaning from the insights gained through the
experience by generalizing it to similar life experiences. This
is where you can lead a discussion in the typical learning “content”
while seeking to draw information and applications from the
students where possible. Your role here, outside of facilitating
a discussion, will be to fill information gaps and provide additional
resources for students to pursue based on their interests.
4) Application. In
this phase you will facilitate students’ commitments to applying
what they’ve learned to their personal and/or professional lives.
Here it’s often a good idea to give students a few minutes to
reflect and write down a commitment and then share it with someone
in the room to help solidify it. They may even seek to support
each other’s accountability to accomplish their action.
This learning cycle is based on the Kolb Learning Theory, which
proposes that individuals have a tendency to both perceive and
process information differently. The different ways of doing
so are generally classified as follows:
Concrete and Abstract Perceivers
“Concrete perceivers” absorb information through direct experience,
by doing, acting, sensing, and feeling, which is nicely addressed
by the “Experience” portion of the learning cycle.
on the other hand, take in information through analysis, observation,
and thinking. They get this opportunity in the “Generalize”
phase of the cycle where they can examine and share their experience,
learn new theories and ideas presented by the instructor and
explore new approaches that can be applied to their existing
challenges and opportunities.
Active and Reflective Processors
“Active processors” make sense of an experience by immediately
using the new information and can do so in the “Application”
phase, where they make plans to apply their new learning to
processors” make sense of an experience by reflecting and thinking
about it. The “Analyze” phase encourages students to do just
Styles. The ideas of adapting your teaching style to that of
your learners is certainly not a new idea, and one most any
progressive teacher or trainer will embrace. But this is not
an easy thing to do. We tend to work best from our strengths
and it’s sometimes difficult to work with a group of students
who happen to require a teaching style that tends to lie in
the shadow side of our instructional repertoire.
One of the beauties of this learning cycle is that if you learn
to apply it effectively, it will automatically address all of
the ways students like to perceive and process information.
It will infuse life into the learning experiences you present,
allow your students to bring their true selves and real lives
into the classroom, and offer them to opportunity to learn from
each other, the practical skills and qualities they need to
be successful in their workplace and in their lives.
About the Author
M.A., M.S., is an Business/Life Coach, Infoprenuer, and consultant,
helping facilitators, organizational leaders, educators, trainers,
coaches and consultants present themselves confidently, access
their creativity, empower their under-performing groups, enhance
their facilitation skills, and build their business online and
offline. He also published an ebook called, "Becoming a
Learning Facilitator," that takes the above material to
much a greater depth. It can be accessed at www.facilitatoru.com/products.html.
Also, for weekly tips and resources for leading or participating
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