Learning Experience Design

Learning Experience Design

The last session I attended at the LT Summer Forum was probably the most thought provoking for a range of reasons both good and bad. It was entitled An Unforgettable Experience and was facilitated by Agent N and Agent K. It was certainly memorable but did I learn anything?

It all kicked off with a bit of time travel…well actually a cardboard mock-up of Doctor Who’s tardis with appropriate sound effects. After ‘arriving’, out stepped Agent N to engage the audience with a few challenging questions and to distribute drugs (actually mints in plastic balls) to ensure we got the most out of the experience. He was soon followed by Agent K….but only after some thigh slapping and clapping (apparently Agent K was a bit of a diva).

We then were encouraged to write our own epitaph – essentially how we would like the world to remember us. I thought about mine but didn’t write anything down – I think I’d like to be remembered as someone who refused to believe all the crap but more of that later. Some people took ages – I just hope they realise how much stonemasons charge these days. And anyway my mantra is less is more.

Next we all stood up, cleared the room of obstacles and played penguins and flamingos. I don’t know why we did this but people seemed to enjoy it. What did we learn from this exercise? I’m not sure but it definitely kept us awake and we didn’t need to take notes. I think it was one of those energisers so beloved of trainers.

Next we designed and drew tattoos on our partners body. Then we wrote a thank you card to someone. Finally we drew our partner placed the drawing on a lanyard around our necks and went around the room trying to collect as many images as possible. The best ‘assassin’ was the one who collected the most. I lost mine pretty quickly and managed to capture none.

We also watched some corporate people sharing stuff in a ball pool and finally discovered that the secret to all this is ‘learning experience design’ with the emphasis on experience not learning….and probably not even design.

The first question at the end of the session was right off the top of my mind. Isn’t this what trainers have been doing for the last 30 years?

The other thought on my mind was as trainers are we educators or entertainers? Agent N and Agent K entertained us but did they educate us? This is a tricky question since we know from affective neuroscience that emotional experiences leave a lasting impression and it’s hard to totally separate the cognitive brain from the reptilian one. Show 50 slides packed with bullets, charts and diagrams and you can guarantee that most humans will shut down their brains.

More significantly is this the approach we need to take to counteract all the boring content delivery that Agent N is actually railing against? I don’t think so. Clearly L&D is in a bit of a rut. The workshop as we know it (with or without penguins and flamingos) is time consuming and expensive (and largely ineffective). The e-learning solution (which let’s face it is what LT exists to promote) is less expensive but just as ineffective.

I design learning interventions (I haven’t rebadged them experiences quite yet) both online and offline. I appreciate both the power of the F2F and the power of online. By blending them both together a myriad of possibilities open up (I recommend ‘More than Blended Learning’ by Clive Shepherd). Agent N suggested that most current ‘courses’ could be resources but I don’t agree. Resources can work but usually only at the critical point of need and even then finding the appropriate resource can be a real challenge.

I do believe we need to design better learning interventions but let’s not send in the clowns, or indeed Special Agent N or K.

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