Challenges and Successes in On-line Experiential Learning

Nobody working in the learning and development field can have avoided the need for some radical rethinking over the past seven or eight months. The initial rules banning most face to face contact have been replaced by more nuanced restrictions, but not before a massive migration, and corresponding up-skilling, to on-line and virtual ways of working. So where has this left experiential education, traditionally the most hands-on aspect of corporate learning?

At first the prospect was bleak, with many proclaiming the death of experiential methodologies and providers like RSVP Design facing a very uncertain future. Then, as Zoom and other platforms surged, there was the deep-learning phase in response to the question “How could we deliver our globally-successful tools like Colourblind and Simbols in virtual settings?”. We put in some long hours, rapid-prototyping against what felt like an ever-growing list of criteria that were largely generated by the limitations of platform design, and the firewalls that corporate clients use to protect themselves. Slowly, then with gathering pace, we developed a functional version of a number of our products, repeatedly tested with our network of global partners in a process that felt very true to Kolb’s Learning Cycle

Do – Review – Define – Apply 

We were lucky at this stage in that a number of our larger clients needed to take some of their essential programmes on-line, and worked hard with us to develop new remote versions of the RSVP  Design components used on these programmes. That gave us a second development strand with learning freely passing between the internal and customer-driven process environments.

The key design principle for us throughout this radical re-design, was to maintain the quality, efficacy, and engagement of the new virtual-tools. We have always been guided by the need to create REAL’s – Rich Environments for Active Learning – and this theoretical framework does not differentiate between learning media. This adherence to a very high standard meant that none of our remote-learning tools could be released unless they met the ‘REAL’s Test” i.e. they have to meet the criteria of being:

Client Centred – Generative –  Co-operative – Problem Based   

Interestingly this gave us a very effective design-template which provided strong guidance throughout the design and prototyping phases, it also gave us great confidence in the results.

Once we had some momentum behind our development path we found that a number of other developers were reaching out to us for discussions about how we were working. It’s been great sharing ideas and offering advice to the people who are trying hard to develop tools for a learning and development normality that looks very different to pre-Covid days. One common thread that we repeatedly came back to was the limitations of existing platforms in meeting the needs of a progressive trainer/facilitator who does not want to revert to a purely didactic approach, but feels forced into doing so by what’s available through e.g. Zoom, Teams or Meet.

One of the key principles of experiential learning is the reduced power-distance between the person delivering the session, and the learner. In face-to-face experiential learning the learner has a great deal of permission to make decisions and structure the learning environment to suit their own learning needs (within a group-based setting). Platforms like Zoom often create a number of obstacles that restrict this freedom e.g. movement between break-out rooms, free exchange of materials and information between groups etc. This means that the facilitator has to exercise a higher level of decision making and structural authority over the session, purely to allow it to function. This creates a greater workload for the facilitator and, very often, sub-optimal learning outcomes.

We’ve recognised that we’re facing a set of circumstances in our industry that threaten to reverse the trend towards widespread adoption of experiential learning methodologies, and we’ve put aside the usual rivalries to work with other developers to win back consumer confidence 

remote experiential learning with all the advantages of face-to-face is both possible and available.

Our decision at RSVP Design has been to invest in developing our own platform to run alongside video-conferencing platforms. This new platform has now launched, initially with Colourblind® (online version) as the first tool loaded onto it, to be quickly followed by Simbols, and then others. We think that we can massively reduce the administrative workload and simultaneously increase the quality of user experience through the adoption of this platform. In the meantime we’re offering offering on-line workshops in how to use experiential learning remotely and specific support to clients in adapting their existing experiential offerings. 

Get in touch to talk through how we can work together to support your operation by contacting [email protected].

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