A coming of age?
RichardEmerson argues that soft skills can best be developed experientiallyTheInstitute of Management’s Karen Charlesworth in her piece, ‘Aiming forExcellence’ (Training, September 2000) provided yet further evidence for what wehave known for a long time, that “whilst technical, hard skills are important,the most sought-after are those that focus on bringing out the best in peopleand teams”. Thissurely strengthens the argument for further developing and making use of experientiallearning approaches, as opposed to more formal classroom-style training,distance learning and e-learning approaches through which some still thinkinterpersonal skills can be developed. Thebenefits of experiential learning have long been recognised for engagingparticipants emotionally as well as intellectually. It is felt that theyprovide a forum through which these all-important “soft skills” can bepractised and feedback on their impact received.Sincethe 1960s and 70s, experiential learning in an organisational context hasdeveloped and matured. And by the 1980s skilled facilitators could be foundwith real organisational understanding, who could help participants drawmeaningful, transferable learning.Overrecent years, the experiential learning paradigm has expanded enormously. Weare seeing theatre being used to unlock creativity, role play incorporatingtrained actors to develop interpersonal skills, circus skills to encouragemutual trust and team development, comedy to build confidence and presentationskills, sports coaching to develop coaching-based management style, and eventhe use of horse whispering to enhance empathy and communication skills.Thissearch for ever more creative ways to apply the principles of experientiallearning may have something in common with the motivation that drove theoutdoor instructors of the 1960s and 70s to use their work in a businesscontext. That is the belief that because the experience was powerful for them(the instructors) and they learned a huge amount from it, the same will be thecase for everyone else. Thiswas clearly not the case then and it took a long time, some very bad publicityand a recession for the lessons to be fully learned and for the market tomature.Ifthese “new” approaches are going to be successful, providers would do well tolearn (and certainly many already have) from the history of the outdoordevelopment world. They need to:–Understand the environment from which learners come and be clear aboutobjectives and success criteria and design to meet those needs –Resist packing programmes with so much action that no reflection and learningcan take place –Remember that just because you are good at something, does not mean that youare necessarily the best person to help others learn from it–Ensure that participants are supported in finding ways to apply the learningthey have gained back in the workplaceTheincreasing number of different approaches available means that for trainingmanagers, the selection of an experiential approach is still one withsignificant risks. Get it wrong and the response is likely to be, “That wasgreat fun, but I’m not sure what I learned”. Get it right and people willimmediately know what they have learned. Perhapsmore importantly, they will know how they are going to apply it and make adifference in the way they get the best out of themselves, other people and theteams in which they work.RichardEmerson is the managing director of Interaction Development & Learning Consultancyand a director of JollySerious Events Comments are closed. A coming of age?On 1 Apr 2001 in Personnel Today Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article