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Learning Through Engagement:
Experiential Learning Methodologies for Innovative Learning

— Anamika Dutt Anand


The concept of learning through ‘engagement’ is as central to the Gurukul system, as it is to our modern day experiential workshops.
The main objective of the experiential methodology is to successfully impart learning through designed experiences, while stirring the innovative minds of workshop participants. Experiential facilitators are a different breed when compared to corporate trainers in today’s world. But what’s the difference between facilitators and trainers? Aren’t they the same?

The distinction between the two is one of relationships - between the learning content and the processes used. The latter concentrates on the specified content, its objective and design. On the other hand, a facilitator focuses on the process, methods and techniques, along the ever changing learning curve.

Experiential learning primarily survives through excellent facilitation strategies while interacting with participating teams. It is highly recommended that facilitators gain prior information of the target group, prior to facilitating them. Ideally, this can be done by conducting focused interviews across a section of the client organisation. Although facilitator’s gravitate towards their own practices & styles, it’s critical that they incorporate the following key attributes to their operating methodologies.

A good facilitator should practice being ‘neutral’ among team members to generate synchronized coordination. Staying ‘focused’ and ‘proactively positive’ can help remove conscious doubts and negativity. They should also allow team members to step out of their comfort zones to ‘promote participation’, especially among the quieter members.

Establishing a free environment that motivates all to contribute ideas or suggestions without passing judgmental reviews, safeguarding the ideas, and changing course as needed are also vital to facilitating a successful interaction and precipitate learning.

‘Right of Centre’ – a hands-on-manual for experiential learning

The book by Anand Upadhyay, ‘Right of Centre’, provides immense support to the corporate L & D fraternity to implement and reflect on the efficacy of cont emporary learning styles.

The idea for this learning methodology originated back in the 80’s, when Anand voyaged on a moonlit trek in the Himalayas with a bunch of other kids.

What started off as an innocent idea on this trip, gingerly matured into popular corporate business simulations that several companies have already implemented such as the Web of life, Crossover, Air - Crash, The Quest and many others. Let’s take a peep into their inception….shall we?

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Experiential learning – where the journey began
The author’s first brush with Experiential Learning took place in the year 1990, on a ‘Marai’ (a tribal community center) in New Zealand. The walls inside the Marai had murals and carvings that depicted their ancestors. The entire Marai tribe, the indigenous people of New Zealand, hailed from the mythical island called ‘Hawaikii. These tribal families spent their weekends together, where the elders taught kids about their community’s art and crafts, their cultural heritage, values, and most importantly, their language.

Similar to the ‘Gurukul’ system of learning, the kids were intensely engaged and immersed in activities such as storytelling, learning the ‘Poi movements’ (a straw / sponge ball attached to the end of a short string), the ‘Hakka’- a traditional war dance, and also the ‘Hangi’ - an underground traditional cooking method.

Experiential Learning concepts can be actively tested in real time scenarios. By testing and experimenting with these ideas, an iterative loop is generated that empowers the process to become an effective learning mechanism among the corporate hubs.

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Experiential Learning: 7 tips on how to become a good facilitator
Experiential learning (EL) requires the support of good facilitators who can anchor and guide the process for superior outcomes. In certain cases, more than one facilitator may be needed to handle, or more importantly, observe an individual’s behavioural pattern.

The word ‘facilitate’, means ‘to make easy’. A facilitator is one who guides the learner, moderates and conducts learning initiatives, as well as inspires the participants in an easy and efficient manner to derive best results. Since experiential learning is based on action learning techniques such as outdoor initiatives, adventure, theatre, music, art or in other words - ‘real time’ action simulations, it would be good to understand some basic tenets of experiential facilitation.

But before moving on, there is one key distinction that needs to be made - the difference between the role of a facilitator and that of a trainer. The distinction between the two is one of relationships - between learning the content and the process used.

Who’s a trainer? – Someone who sets a learning objective, designs the program and then instructs or teaches specific content at a comfortably paced sequence.

Their target is –‘to fulfil teaching goals’. Who’s facilitator? – Someone who is more focused on the process, not the content, as the process is driven by the learner. The facilitator’s role is to help individuals understand and learn from their behavioural patterns with a wide variety of experiential triggers. He is willing to extend timelines based on how an individual/group responds to the learning method when pushed out of their comfort zones. Their target is – ‘Create an effective learning environment’.

Well, you might ask then- if there isn’t a concrete pre-decided teaching goal and it’s all about going with the flow, then how does one actually facilitate?

First of all, a facilitator needs to gather some insights or prior information about the group that he’s going to work with. This will help him to understand the group’s background, their attitude and willingness to learn through the experiential route.

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Here are 7 tips from the experiential learning rulebook that have proved to be effective:

Be neutral - Be a neutral observer first, then a facilitator. No one likes you being bossy.

Stay focused - Remember to stay on track. You need to observe & track the participant’s issues and address them accordingly. Remember, you are helping them arrive at solutions.

Remain proactively positive - Motivation is the key to producing the best results. Be the encouraging force behind your group & guide them throughout the learning process.

Promote participation - Encourage every member to participle, especially the quieter ones.

Safeguard ideas - Be careful with the participant's ideas - safeguard them from being rejected by group members. This is a basic ground rule that should be followed and ideally be communicated at the beginning of the workshop.

Remember the quote " I may not agree with your thoughts, but I will fight with all my might to safeguard your right to express them"

Do not judge - Do not evaluate the suggested ideas. Instead encourage them to explain their ideas and how it would be effective for the whole team.

Change course - EL is all about experimenting and discovering new paths to arrive at solutions. So feel free to change course when necessary. The goal is to use appropriate methods and procedure to enable the group to arrive at the best solution.

There might be times when a facilitator finds it hard to manage the entire process on his/her own. In such instances, he/she should feel free to reach out to a co-facilitator and a process observer for help, as required. A co-facilitator and an observer can really be effective in boosting the learning curve, by contributing their observations about the groups, the roles played and the effectiveness of the methods used to resolve problems. This works wonders, especially for large teams.

Well, there you go. We have given you some generic but proven tips on how to be a good facilitator. They may be tweaked based on your specific requirements. I wish you great luck in your role as a facilitator!


About the Author
Dr. Prof. Rameeza Rasheed is a retired Professor of Economics with 30 years of teaching in JBAS college for women (formerly SIET college)-Chennai.

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