Let’s start by looking at the different types of learning styles that we all have. Our brains learn new skills and behaviours by seeing, hearing or doing things on a repetitive basis. Once we have done something once, our brains compartmentalise that experience ready to reference the next time, we must do the same thing. The more times we see, hear or do the same thing, the more proficient we become at it. This is how we learn, and which supports the notion of ‘practice makes perfect’.
Let’s remain on the topic of practice. Learning and Development professionals recognise the value of learning new skills and behaviours in a safe environment where the student can practice the new skill of behaviour without fear of failure. Establishing this ‘safe’ place to learn is one of the key elements of ‘experiential facilitation’
Most people have attended training where they have been asked to undertake ‘role play’ and have had a negative experience, due to feeling uncomfortable, embarrassed, incompetent or a strong sense of failure in front of other learners. This experience is often enough to deter learners from ever wanting to participate in ‘role play’ training again. The lack of preparation and professionalism of the trainer/facilitator have led to a life-long negative experience for that learner. It’s with this concern in mind that any trainer wanting to facilitate experiential learning (not role play) must receive appropriate training in the methodology, lesson planning and facilitation of positive experiential learning. We will not refer to this type of learning as ‘role play’ any further into this paper as the name itself sends a shiver down the spines of many learners who have had that negative experience due to poor facilitation methods.
Scenario-based learning is complex, difficult to plan for, challenging to replicate live situations and find the balance of realism v experience, however, without doubt if done well it can be one of the most powerful and effective ways to help others to learn and retain that new skill or behaviour. This last point is of most value, let’s look at an example of effective scenario-based learning;
A local hospital has just recruited 4 new security officers who will provide the ‘frontline’ for dealing with hostile and aggressive patients and relatives. Of the 4, 3 are ex-military and have served in various war zones during their illustrious careers, the 4th however has previously worked in a florist and has no conflict management experience. The hospital training team have included some conflict management training as part of the induction programme which, will include some scenario-based learning to re-enforce the session.
The training team are all experienced in delivering scenario-based learning and have developed clear lesson plans that have structured learning outcomes. These lesson plans and learning outcomes drive the shape of the scenarios and ensure that each of the 4 learners (despite previous experience) can achieve those outcomes. Following the classroom theory-based training, the learners are asked to participate (asked not told) and receive the appropriate briefing that is designed to;
share the learning outcomes
explain in more detail about the actual scenario
address any concerns learners might have in participating
signpost towards the valuable post scenario ’debriefing discussion’
During the scenario the ex-military guys are able to show their knowledge and previous experience to support the facilitation of a successful outcome, as their brief from the training team included a discussion on the different experience levels within the group (florist) and how they could add value to the training by supporting their new colleague during the exercise. The experienced trainers were on-hand to keep the scenario on track by implementing a ‘pause and play’ approach ensuring the less experienced learner achieved a positive outcome. This skill transforms the trainer into a director who focuses closely on the dynamics of the scenario as it plays out. It is the trainer who makes the decision to allow the scenario to continue or to pause it briefly to establish where it is heading and to bring it back on track.
The most common failure in the facilitation of scenario-based training is lack of lesson planning and scenario preparation. Followed closely by a lack of experience and skill of the trainer. Let’s briefly return to hospital training scenario, due to the power of the training and the retention of learning, the new security office was able to effectively deal with an aggressive patient by using his new skills. He was successful because this wasn’t the first time, he had used this new skill, as he had developed it and mastered it in the safe environment of the classroom with the support of his colleagues and trainers. This allowed him to draw upon recent experience (training) to allow him to respond to his aggressor rather than panic and react due to having no options available to him.
Experiential learning is powerful, rewarding, motivating, full of risk, complex and difficult to plan and prepare for, but if done well it provides lifelong learning that inspires confidence and competence in learners. But it certainly isn’t '‘role play’
This form of development can be used effectively across multiple sectors and skill areas successfully, and forms the basis of empowerment and motivation in staff as they progress in their chosen careers.
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