I do and I understand

Posted: Jul 28 2015

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The effectiveness of learning through experience is not new – back in the 4th Century Chinese philosopher Confucius is attributed as saying: “I hear and I forget, I see and I remember, I do and I understand.” According to Gerard Crowley, co-director of Team Challenge Company, the same is still true today.

I have been involved in team training events and workshops for many years and recently I’ve seen a real increase in demand for experiential learning. This trend is unsurprising given the impressive stats available from the likes of National Training Laboratories (USA), which show 75 percent of what we do we remember compared with just 5% of what we hear. Over the years there have been many academic papers published on the subject, including those by the popular 20th century educational reformer John Dewey, who believed students learn best through hands-on activities. Later, David Kolb – a renowned educational theorist – outlined what he believed are the four stages of experiential learning; activity and practice, review and reflections, theories and concepts, applications and case studies.

Across the pond there are reports that an increasing number of American colleges and universities are embracing experiential learning and promoting personalised instruction. Meanwhile in the UK, despite the available evidence and increasing demand, still too many businesses are sticking to the same old tired formulas of lectures, videos or staff handbooks to train their staff and are surprised when behaviours aren’t changed.

To get the best results and continuous learning, teams need to feel free to identify and pursue their own goals, self-evaluate and essentially learn to team themselves. Through the use of hands on problem solving challenges our team development events allow team members to meet a variety of goals consistently and effectively. Topic covered include; effective planning procedures, high level communication, continuous strategy development, efficient time and resource management. Our results speak for themselves; one oil and gas client which took part in our experiential emergency evacuation procedure training, which involves smoke bombs and actors playing casualties, found staff response times to emergency procedures were over 70 percent quicker following this training.

This year, I had a very personal lesson in the effectiveness of experiential learning when I was part of a team which completed a 120km charity trek across the Arctic enduring temperatures of minus 30, snow storms and a an ice quake. For months before the 10 day trek we learned the skills needed by doing them repeatedly until they became automated. By rehearsing the simple things over and over again, such as practicing walking with a 35kg sled for up to 4 hours a day, it meant we could rely on muscle memory when mentally the going got really tough. Our preparation of learning by doing rather than listening to lectures or reading theory, was a major factor in our success as well as allowing us enjoy the event to the fullest.

This feature has been published in the following publications:

  • HR Director
  • Business Bulletin
  • All Media Scotland

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