I came across a great short article this week that summarises much of what we at RSVP Design believe about learning and education. It describes ‘the imperative of experiential learning’, takes about 5 minutes to read and is really worthwhile. Read here.
As I read the article it made me think about the way in which so many organisations continue to use Training Workshops as a key element (sometimes even the foundation) of their learning and development provision. Why do we continue to rely so heavily on the ‘workshop’ format when so many alternative learning and training strategies are available through the use of new technologies?
If we think of workshops as vehicles for the transfer of knowledge and expertise they are largely redundant. Knowledge transfer can happen more quickly and relevantly, in a moment of need, through a smartphone. Most adults describe their most memorable and useful professional learning happening at work, doing their jobs, at a moment when they needed to learn fast in order to solve a problem or achieve a goal.
So, let’s think about why we might choose to run a workshop and what it needs to contain to make it worth the time and money we invest in providing it.
Five reasons for bringing learners to a workshop
1) ‘All learning has an emotional base’.
Plato said it and neuroscience is reinforcing it. We remember and make sense of learning when there is a strong emotional connection linked to the experience we have had. If we want our learners to focus on particular learning objectives we need to structure experience, usually through carefully designed activity, in a way that will generate strong, but focused, feeling. They may experience anger or frustration in a workplace meeting but not have the opportunity to reflect on this, or to process the learning. In a structured workshop the learning cycle ensures that the feelings experienced can be reviewed and understood, so that learning can be identified and taken into the next experience.
2) Problem based learning is a powerful learning tool that appeals especially to adult learners.
Whilst we can offer problem-based learning electronically or individually, working on a problem together with other people offers more perspectives, challenges our habitual thinking and develops a wider range of possible solutions. A workshop environment, in which learners explore not only the problem but the processes used in solving it, is ideal. This leads into the third reason…..
3) Collaborative or cooperative learning.
Effective learners build great learning relationships. They develop an ability to learn with and from others but they also know how to work and learn independently when it is necessary for them to do so. Workshops often bring together people who do not have existing working relationships and so need to build rapport and trust, rapidly, in order to learn together. In some cases, the relationships built in a learning workshop form the basis for future development work by creating action learning sets, peer coaching pairs, mentoring relationships or informal support and ‘listening’ networks.
4) Workshops create time for observation and reflection.
Being at a workshop allows time out of the stress and time-pressure of many jobs. Well-facilitated workshops build in activity, observation, reflection and high quality, timely feedback. They allow people to notice things (e.g. aspects of their own behaviour and the behaviours of others) that they may not be aware of in a busy workplace. They have the opportunity to notice and challenge patterns of thinking and action and to evaluate the effectiveness of these. (Incidentally – too many workshops pack in far too much ‘content’ and miss the opportunity to offer the time and support to reflect, in depth, upon the experience!) The best workshops offer a careful balance of activity, individual reflection, group discussion and sharing, exploration of links to the workplace or outside life, and personal and group commitments to future action.
5) Workshops offer the chance to create a safe, simulated environment.
Some of the very best learning experiences happen within simulations. Simulations offer realistic and relevant scenarios, with all the immediacy of ‘real-life’, but with the safety-net of knowing that errors made in the simulation are not going to have serious and damaging consequences. Great experiential learning activities, designed to focus on specific learning outcomes and to mirror the learners’ real life experience as closely as possible, become simulations in which learners can rehearse and refine strategies, decision making processes and individual choices. Whilst electronic simulations have a place, practical, behavioural simulations involving change, turbulence, ambiguity and challenge create powerful, memorable and transferable learning.
The thread running through all of these reasons is experience. Workshops should offer a range of experiences: practical, emotional, challenging, different from work or daily life but relevant to it. Some of these experiences can be offered by giving discussion based activities or case studies. However, the most memorable ones offer more: the emotion associated with competition, collaboration, challenging targets, creative thinking and risk taking.
RSVP Design offers a remarkable collection of activities that have been tried and tested and that always generate debate, reflection and learning. There is much more information on the website, in the shop or directly from our experienced learning designers. Alternatively, why not come to one of our regular workshops and experience the power of the activities for yourself?
Book onto one of our Experiential Learning Workshops in London or Scotland now, or request an in-house demo!