It’s been five years since – sadly – Gerald M. “Jerry” Weinberg passed away. Ever since then, I struggled with some public mourning about him, until recently I had just the right idea. I already covered Jerry’s physical books in the past year. There are some gems left in some of the books he later published on Leanpub. This week, I will dive into three of them in one blog post: Experiential Learning: Beginning, Inventing, Simulation. (You can get most of the content of the physical books I reviewed on Leanpub as well – some might have a slightly different name.)
Experiential Learning is at the heart of the Problem-solving Leadership course as well as the Amplify your Effectiveness conference. Having attended PSL in 2011, and being a trainer myself, I was eager to get to know some of the training design thoughts that went into all the different formats. Since these three books don’t have a pendant in physical form, this was sort of the only way to dive into the topic for me.
Basically, I liked the whole series due to the fact that I could re-live some of my Problem-solving leadership exercises, now explained by the designer himself. In the first of the three volumes, Jerry lays some of the groundwork for designing experiential learning exercises while explaining many exercises that he used over the course of his career.
Beginning takes the reader from starting points in experiential learning exercises over to over increasingly improving the exercise. You will follow along with many of the examples, and combine the design of the exercise with ever more of Jerry’s other concepts.
For example, the very first exercise describes splitting the group into two and asking each sub-group to perform a simple process. One of the groups gets to choose an observer, while the other just works on their own following their own process. In later chapters you will learn about applying metaphor’s to your exercises, all the while reminding the reader of keeping the exercise simple and transparent.
A lesson I rather had to learn the hard way deals with laying out traps. Sure, you can introduce traps into your learning exercises, but in an experiential learning set-up, it’s hard, maybe even impossible to tell up-front what people will learn. So, participants will always bring their own traps with them and might learn something totally new for them that they did not intend to be in there. And that is perfectly fine. As an experiential trainer, you need to create the ground for the learning to flourish without knowing which kinds of seeds will prosper into flowers of vegetables.
Overall, Beginning lays the soil for the two other volumes in this series, and you will leave with a basic understanding of experiential learning from this volume, ready for the next things to come.
Inventing deals with all the things we humans take pride in: tinkering, drawing, painting, and the like. If you can combine your learning content with people inventing things, they will not only enjoy themselves but also appreciate the lessons they take from it.
Similar to the other books in this series, you will dive into a variety of lessons, from the house of card exercise and how to improve it, over tinkering with toys, and what you, as an experiential learning designer, might want to watch out for. Since learning from your experiences is so important for experiential learning to happen, this book covers all the practical ways that invention can become part of your learner’s journey.
The final book in the series took on the probably longest exercise in the whole problem-solving leadership class: Verseworks. Anybody who has dealt with the mines, solving jigsaw puzzles in a dark room without a chair, too small to stand up straight if you’re my size, over to income and expense calculation for your startup and the like basically puts together all the elements from the two previous books into a single large-scale experiential learning exercise.
Simulations are an important way to learn something about your daily job by doing something totally different, yet, seeing the pattern between the two different environments that emerge. The unnecessary traps find their way back in here, as you should not design your simulations with too many intended traps. Learners always bring their own traps and might get confused over too many confusions if there are so many misleading things in the way.
I really enjoyed Simulation, and tried to incorporate a larger simulation into one of my training classes to some large extent. Other colleagues tried to do the same simulation, too, though I think Jerry’s guide from the third volume here helped me to be mindful of all the things I should be aware of when designing and facilitating a simulation in my own class – even though I really can’t name them.
Overall, all these years after reading the three books, I wonder why these books only published on LeanPub did not meet a higher level of interest, yet, rarely talked about. I think Jerry laid a good cause for better pieces of training in these three books, and it’s really easy for the reader to follow along. But maybe, not all of us are in the position to design experiential learning exercises, and that’s why I see so little talk about this series.