Learning from Experience

With the rise of artificial intelligence, many are wondering what the fate of humanity will be. Will our jobs go away as we are replaced by robots and automated systems?
The truth is that there will still be a genuine need for humans in the workplace of tomorrow. There will still be tasks that only humans can do. But the necessary skills are of a higher order, such as:
  • Listening
  • Negotiating
  • Coaching
  • Collaborating
  • Creativity
  • Innovating
  • Critical thinking
  • Learning agility
How will organizations develop such skills in their leaders and team members?
The good news is that many organizations are already doing so. Have you ever heard the phrase "experiential learning?"
It has been around, in my field (Training & Organization Development), a long time. It sums up, in two words, an entire school of thought on how best to train and develop people:
Learning comes through structured experiences that challenge the learners.
The concept can be traced back to John Dewey who said: “Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results. We only think when confronted with a problem.” 
Experiential learning is particularly well suited to the higher level skills outlined above. How better to learn about handling organizational problems, for example, than by "doing" problem solving on real problems?
Recently, a client company brought me in to train their project managers on handling conflict using win-win negotiation skills.
Experiential Learning says that the best way to learn these things is by experience. Or to be more precise, the way to learn is via the Experiential Learning Cycle:
Do it. Reflect upon it. Generalize it. Apply it.
As the great educator John Dewey once said: “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” 
So throughout the workshop, the participants are plunged into the topic, going from conflict to conflict, discovering and using the communication and negotiation skills needed.
As the facilitator (one who makes and guides others along the path to the destination), I make sure that everyone has the experience.
But does everyone learn the lessons?
That is not in the control of the facilitator. And in fact it is not the job of the facilitator.
In Experiential Learning, the lessons are right there.
Each individual participant is in charge of their own learning.
What they learn is up to each of them.
In experiential learning, the learners learn how they learn. Even from failure.
Again John Dewey has wisdom for us: “Failure is instructive. The person who really thinks learns quite as much from his failures as from his successes.” 
Terrence Seamon designs and facilitates experiential learning for managers and teams. Follow him on twitter @tseamon


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