The Slow Death of Experiential Learning
“Learning is experience. Everything else is just information.” - Albert Einstein (1879-1955 AD)
"I hear, I know. I see, I remember. I do, I understand." - Confucius (551-479 BC)
Albert Einstein and Confucius are considered the most eminent of scientists and philosophers of recorded human
history. For them to concur on experiential learning, makes it all the more important to consider the topic seriously
and with the utmost sincerity.
Experiential learning as a tool could be seen as early as 4th century BC. However, it was not until the 1970s that
experiential learning was recognized as a field of education. To this end, the Association of Experiential Education (AEE)
was formed in 1977. In the 1900’s, with the work of John Dewey – who challenged educators to develop learning
programs that could not be isolated from real life experiences – and psychologists like Piaget, Chickering, Tumin,
Bloom, Friere, Gardner and Lewin, this theory of learning gained traction.
Experiential learning, in its essence, allows for the creation of change experiences and when used with a well-designed
strategy, is transformational for the participants. It uses elements of neuroscience and is particularly effective in breaking
down patterns and behaviours. It forces people, in which these patterns and behaviours are embedded, to behave
differently because of unfamiliar environments and situations. An experiential learning exercise is the next big leveller,
it removes hierarchy and reduces all the participants to equals.
Experiential learning is very broad when it comes to mediums. In the corporate setting, it can include everything up to
music, theatre, simulations, outbound learning, games etc. The deciding factor on which medium to use come down to
individual design of the learning experience and the individual requirements. The customization of these mediums and
the briefing and debriefing of the participants are what drive the learnings in and make an experiential learning session
productive and useful to the corporates.
In the Indian context, however, is when the learning aspect of experiential learning is beginning to die out. This tool,
which is ideal in boosting productivity, innovating, managing change and articulating values has been reduced to a
glorified picnic for the participants. Ideally a mixture of fun and learning, it is now nothing more than paid getaway with
minimal return for the participants.
All fun and no learning makes “Johnny” a very bad return on investment.
This trend towards transforming experiential learning to being a “jolly good time” is pretty evident. For the desired
learning to take root and blossom, any such exercises ideally need to be two to three days long for the communication
and reinforcement of the message. However, the current scenario sees such sessions being limited to a duration of one day or even half a day – ideal for a picnic, not so much for the learning.
This slow death of experiential learning is exacerbated by the entry of adventure companies and travel and tourism operators into the space. With little to no understanding and appreciation of the science of experiential learning, they are offering a cut deal price to corporates for a weekend adventure and getaway. These entities offer little to no value, except for providing excitement and depleting their clients’ budgets. Even so, some of the users, who do not have the proper knowledge and lack understanding of the nuances and science involved in experiential learning, retain the services of such vendors, purely on the basis of the lower costs involved.
This is where genuine providers of experiential learning with well thought out activities, an understanding of employee psychology and the ability to legitimately solve the corporates’ problems are getting pinched. These organizations use a variety of methodologies to impart the required messages to the participants, to ensure their safety and to provide them with a memorable experience. However, because these companies are, in fact, experts, and charge more than their counterparts offering adventure and holiday packages, they are losing out on genuinely providing a return on their clients’ investment.
This phenomenon is happening on a scale at which the learning providers would have to shut their doors down in the near future. Once that happens, all that would remain in the place of experiential learning would be fun, outdoor adventures and a lack of return for the participants’ sponsors. This would ultimately lead to a stop in all such expenses by disillusioned organizations, who have already had their hands burnt, shying away from spending their training budgets on “jolly old adventures”. That, in itself, would spell doom for the experiential learning sector and have the clients lose out on a source of tremendous learning, vital for their organic growth.
Death is on the way for experiential learning. Only time will tell if it would get a shot in the arm or would silently walk off in the sunset, leaving a gaping hole in the growth trajectory of Indian organizations.
What do you think?
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