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Experiential learning - the secret of evolutionary success

Experiential Learning is the most natural form of learning and one which our Teamscapes methodology is built upon.

Why wouldn’t it be? Humans have been learning by doing for millions of years. It is the secret of our evolutionary success passed on through generations since our earliest ancestors. Not only did it supercharge our ability to find food and materials, it led to our expertise in making tools, knowing the seasons and predicting our surrounding conditions. Over time, we became adept at teaming together and altering our environment to meet our collective needs. We learnt how to harness the elements and the atom to further our reach into the unknown. And we did almost all of it through demonstration and practice.

That’s not the say that books, lectures and theoretical models didn’t, and don’t, have their place. But given that literacy became widespread just a few centuries ago and TV has only been around for a hundred years, learning by doing is the self-development process most evident in the bedrock of human evolution.

Understanding this process and giving it a language has been a human preoccupation since Ancient Greece. More recently, the likes of Carl Yung and Kurt Lewin revealed the behavioural and group dynamics which drive this innate approach to personal and team growth. But it wasn’t until the 1970s when a holistic model, which synthesised all these schools of thought, came into being via the mind of David Kolb.

Kolb coined it the ‘Experiential Learning Theory’ and defined it as… “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience.”

There is, of course, a certain amount of irony in developing a theory to explain an experience which we’ve been successfully implementing unaided for millions of years. ‘What’s the point’ is a fair question to ask. Well, as we become ever more sophisticated in creating the groups and businesses which sustain and advance our communities, the implementation of efficient learning is ever more vital. Whilst defaulting to ‘show and tell’ alone can look like an attractive shortcut, it can so often be the expense of efficacy.

The Experiential Learning Theory goes beyond demonstration. It breaks learning down into five main cycles. First, we have the experience itself. But the doing alone doesn’t do it alone. Next, it’s vital to enter into discussion about what we did with those we did it with. This rationalises our understanding of the choices we made along the way. Feedback is another cycle which serves our understanding of the impact of our choices. With this knowledge, we get to do again and practice new ideas and techniques. And finally, we move from the relatively safe confines of practice mode to real-life application of the knowledge and skills we have developed.

It’s a process which creates a continuous upwards spiral of learning and one which is at the heart of every learning intervention Teamscapes creates, whether that’s a half-day fun-packed teambuilding away day or a two-year leadership programme. We observe these cycles in the design and facilitation of everything we do.

What is more, Experiential Learning is multidisciplinary. Not only has it been proven to work across thousands of centuries and societies, it works across all sectors and business needs.

By blending specific technical knowhow into the process, it connects theoretical knowledge with real-life application, thereby tailoring itself to the occupation at hand. It also tailors the occupation. As Kolb explains, “When learners and the environment interact, both are changed. We don’t just respond to the environment. We change it in order to meet our needs.”

So, just as it is with human evolution, Experiential Learning is a driving force behind the evolution of our workplace, our marketplace and our emerging industries.

This is why the Teamscapes methodology is built upon Kolb’s theory. We don’t merely aim at helping organisations realise pre-determined learning objectives or business goals. We go further. We aspire to help their teams, leaders and people evolve together.


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