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[Video] 12 Steps to Creating an Experiential Learning Program for Your Organization – Part 1

By Phil Geldart on January 31, 2017

Experiential learning is a powerful tool for creating and sustaining behavior change. When looking to implement an experiential learning program at an organization, there are a number of questions that must be answered. One of the most pressing questions is "Where do I start?" In this two-part video blog series, Eagle's Flight founder and CEO, Phil Geldart discusses 12 steps to creating a successful experiential learning program. 

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Video Transcript

Hi, in writing the book on experiential learning I thought people go through the book and feel well that was interesting (I hope) but how would I actually do it myself? So at the back, I’ve outlined 12 steps that you follow, at least that I would follow, to create an experience. And I just shared the ones with you that I use, in the thinking that you may want to go off and do it yourself. So let me just quickly walk you through the 12, and more detail is in the book, but I'll take you through each of them just to give you my insight behind each one.

The first step is, to know the objective. When I create an experience, I always begin with what is it I am trying to teach. Experiential learning is not an experience with a hope that maybe you'll learn something. Experiential learning says, I know exactly what I want to teach and I will use an experience to teach it. So just to use an example, one of the first experiences I created was Gold of the Desert Kings and that particular experience began with a desire to teach two or three specific things. But just for the sake of the video, let me just take one as an example and that was the importance of planning. So I began by saying when this is over the objective is people need to learn the importance of planning. Now they may learn it by practice, or they may learn it by realizing they're not very good at it, I haven’t quite figured that out yet, but whatever it is the objective is the importance of planning. And I can't stress enough how important it is to start with what it is you want the experience to teach. Until you know that, it's just a fun activity. But once you know that everything has to link back to what it is that you want to teach, then you're already out of the gate with a great start. So that's step number one – what’s the objective.

The second is to say, what are the components of that. So now if I know I want to teach planning, what are the important components and you can't have too many because otherwise, the experience will take all day. But it might be, for example, well in my planning I should use information well, I should be able to sort good information from poor information, and I should be able to be able to then set priorities based on that good information. So I choose if I'm going to teach planning, to choose those three kinds of components that are going to make it up. And I think those components then drive to the experience. So again for the sake of the video, if I were just to take one, and that is, if I’m going to teach planning, one of the components is going to be the need for information. Then I know that my experience has to in some way make information available. If I were going to choose a component of "you need to make decisions", then my experience needs in some way, to allow a lot of opportunity for decisions - poor ones or good ones - to be made. So you begin to see how as the experience is created, it's being created around the things which you want to teach.

Step number three is, what kind of environment naturally lends itself to that behavior. Again this is just personal preference, but if I'm going to teach planning, an environment of dealing with an ecosystem doesn't seem to me to fit - the ecosystem is what it is. So I might use that to teach something else, but somehow the environment of an ecosystem doesn't make sense to me. But an adventure or a trek or a search for something does because I have to do some planning. So I pick an environment that suits the learning and then in this particular case, I thought well let's say that I was going to race across the desert in search of treasure. That’s good [as it] allows for planning and information. Perfect. So I just selected an environment that I feel will contribute to that.

The next step is the theme. The theme is very important because I've got my environment, [which is] some kind of desert environment or race environment or quest environment, but what is my theme going to be? The theme is what moves your experience from today's reality, I'm in business making bicycles, to a metaphor for my business - I'm in the jungle, I'm in the desert, I'm on top of the mountains, I'm running a research center, whatever it is. So I create a theme, which I feel as the designer, will support what I'm trying to achieve. And I love the theme because if the theme is good, it gets people in. We have an experience set in the 1930’s, in the era of Agatha Christie's. It’s just very cool, back in the thirties and it's an old murder mystery at a huge estate, but the theme is compelling - it's fun. We have another theme that takes place in the Caribbean, where you're actually making very high-end material for racing yachts and sailing boats. It’s just a cool idea, a cool theme. So you need to pick a theme that people can identify with and can engage with easily, regardless of their background, their cultures and who they are as people. Something that people can easily identify with so that everybody can participate in it. So in the Gold of the Desert Kings example, I picked a theme of a race across the environment, being the desert, which I felt people could identify with.

Step number five is: Give it a title. It's interesting at Eagle’s Flight that we have discussions about titles. Title is the hook that everything hangs on. So the title is important because people do not refer to “well I went through that experience where I crossed the desert.” They just say I played Gold of the Desert Kings or I played Promises Promises or I played Windjammer. And they reference the theme, the experience, and the event, by its title. So you want the title both to tell a little bit about what the experience is going to be about, create a little bit of excitement but also leave a hook in the mind that I can reference back to easily. So the title is more important than it may appear at first glance.

Step number six is, then you create an outline. Now I've got this idea laid out, I know what I'm trying to do, and now I try to create an outline that will bring it together. So is my desert adventure going to have steps or squares or is it going to be fluid? But I need to lay out a bit of an outline of how is this actually going to work, how am I going to make it happen, where am I going to insert the information. So in Gold of the Desert Kings, the outline said you know what I think planning is best done when you have the information up front. So in my experience, I will make all the information available right at the beginning. So when they do the planning, they have access to the information. But people don't always use all the information that’s available to them. So in my design, I will make the information availability optional because I think that's an important learning point when we talk about planning. There are other experiences that are not talking about planning, where the information is readily available, not optional. So that's an example of how you create an outline that brings all your learnings together.

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