Archive for the ‘Topic – Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) [Kolb]’ Category

Rapid Lava Learning

Monday, June 29th, 2015

Mile 180. Lava Falls Rapid, Grand Canyon. One of the most notorious, if not the most notorious, rapid on the Colorado River within the Grand Canyon.  A snarling, noisy cauldron of churning waters intent on devouring anything or anyone who doesn’t show any respect – and some who do.

For those people like me rafting the 225 miles of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon this is one of the white water highlights. For the guides taking us down the river, this is also a highlight – but even more so a challenge. They know the risk of the boats capsizing, together with the risk of serious injury (or worse) for themselves or their charges if the relevant respect is not shown. They also know that reputations are won and lost on the few seconds taken to navigate Lava Falls. YouTube logs many guides’ attempts to negotiate the rapids – often the ones that didn’t go according to plan.

I had already witnessed our guides ‘scouting’ (this is where the guides leave the boats and walk ahead an up so that they can look down on the rapids to check the prevailing conditions) previous challenging rapids and seen indications of the seriousness and perhaps mild apprehension with which they approached them – tones of voices became more serious, then, as they stood over the rapids the tightening of already recently tightened life-vest straps.

Different guides displayed different signs, and I was particularly impressed by one of the guides in terms of her skills in these situations. Kiki is a woman in her mid-twenties who has guided many parties and regards the Grand Canyon – and in particular the Colorado River – as her home.  She has also never capsized a boat on the river – although she has taken quite a few unintentional swims through rapids – but is aware that capsizing is likely to happen at some point.

I was interested in her approach to navigating Lava Falls and she was kind enough to spend some time discussing it with me the evening before we “ran Lava”.

There were several points of particular note.

Kiki said that Lava Falls enters her consciousness early on in the trip (although the Falls are not negotiated until around Day 12), and often prior to the start of the trip. She described experiencing short “adrenalin bursts” on these occasions in anticipation of the Falls. When I asked how she reacted to these, she explained that whenever she experienced this, she would visualise the Falls and her anticipated route through the Falls (the preferred route can alter depending on a number of factors, but mainly on the water level of the River). Kiki found this a useful process in both making use of the adrenalin burst and in meaningful preparation for the rapids.

She then described how the guides would discuss the Falls the evening prior to running them, and how on the actual day of the event as she approached the Falls she would start to experience some nervousness and anticipation. She recognised that whilst these emotions were understandable, they were also potentially unhelpful, so she recognised and dealt with them.  She achieved this by discussing information and factual aspects about the Falls with her passengers. She explained that this helped expel the unhelpful emotions and focussed her on the cognitive task in hand in a helpful manner.

Having scouted the Falls and returned to her boat to run the Rapids, Kiki described how she monitored her breathing. She recounted how if she then felt apprehensive at all, she would take deep breaths – for two reasons. Firstly because it helped her to refocus her energy and ensure she was in the best physiological state to negotiate Lava, and secondly for a very practical reason – if she did capsize or go for an unintentional swim she would have plenty of breath! The importance of this last point was illustrated by one of the other guides who explained how they were thrown out of their boat, spent 38 seconds underwater in the clutches of the Colorado and were then spat out 25 yards from where they went under.

Finally, Kiki explained how she reflected on her approach, line and skills after the event – considering what went well and what, if anything she could have done differently – thus maximising her learning for the next time.

The majority of people reading this will not be river guides, but the approaches, behaviours, processes and practices that Kiki so effectively uses are instantly transferable to other situations – she demonstrates a use of Emotional Intelligence beyond her years in recognising and managing her emotions, she understands and applies the principles of being focused and managing her breathing, and she makes the most of every experience by implementing the Experiential Learning Cycle.

Whilst I have written about them before, I think this is a really helpful and practical application of these theories, and it demonstrates how versatile and effective they can be in supporting effective performance – whatever the context.

If I had been training as a river guide, the discussion we had would also have been a good illustration of NLP Modelling. If you want to identify and fully reproduce the detailed skills of a successful person, it is insufficient purely to watch their behaviours – you need to fully explore and comprehend their thoughts, mind-set and emotions in order to achieve their level of excellence. Due to the breadth, depth and quality of information gleaned, the process also accelerates a person’s learning.

And how did we get on? All the oared boats made it through, but the lighter (and more likely to capsize) paddle boat didn’t make it. It capsized, throwing out all seven occupants, however, four climbed on top of the overturned raft to row it through “Son of Lava Falls”, and the three others swam it – with one of the occupants receiving a minor head injury which looked a lot worse than it was due to the amount of blood he lost. A reminder of the power of Lava Falls and the need for the preparation and skills Kiki displayed.

Paul

 

All the world’s a stage …

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

… wrote William Shakespeare in “As You Like It”. I have used actors in learning and development interventions on a number of occasions over the past 20 years. Actors have assisted me in different ways, such as acting out business scenarios between themselves, and interacting individually with delegates. I have also seen others use them in innovative and powerful ways, such as Olivier Mythodrama where the facilitator or trainer is also a skilled Shakespearean actor. As Sanford Meisner said, “An ounce of behaviour is worth a pound of words”.

Recently I have seen a couple of posts on HR and training forums asking about how to use actors effectively and whether any return on investment evaluation has been undertaken regarding their use. A very successful use of actors late last year led me to reflect on what works and what doesn’t when using this methodology – which is what prompted this blog post. And it’s not just me saying it was a success – the evaluation qualified the value and, more importantly, demonstrated how the use of actors had made such an impact on the transfer of learning to the workplace.

But it doesn’t always go smoothly – and I have witnessed situations several times where there has been little learning or the people running the event didn’t make the most from the opportunity. So how do you make it work well?

These are the key foundation stones – put these in place and you will build on them during the session, and so gain the maximum benefit from what can be both challenging and financially expensive. It can also be a hugely exciting and satisfying way to develop skills!

Lots of delegates have had experience of role playing with colleagues, and the majority of them do not talk about it being a positive experience. This can be for a number of reasons, but the main ones are that the colleagues ‘ham-acted’, the colleague role player attempted to help the delegate, and that the delegate didn’t find it very realistic. Consequently, you will probably find some reluctance or resistance, making it even more important to plan and deliver the intervention effectively.

Choose wisely There are a significant number of actors and groups of actors available, so how do you get to work with good ones? Personal recommendation is always a good start but not always an available option. When I recently required some in another part of the country, I searched the internet. I found several groups and then sought to understand two very significant points – had they carried out this sort of work before, and secondly, would they give me contact details of their previous customers so I could get references? It is important to use actors who have undertaken business or corporate work previously – it is very different to stage acting in that the actors have to be able to think on their feet and deal with the unknown. Your delegates will not be scripted.

Make the scenarios real and relevant You need your delegates to be able to immerse themselves into the role play, to be able to forget about everything else going on around them, to find it realistic. And all this is possible.

The first aspect of this is the writing of the scenario. It needs to be realistic – as close to what the delegate would experience as possible. This can be helped by the use of the same resources as the delegate would use in the workplace – for example real documentation or forms, signed by who they would expect to see them signed by.

Another point that is so easy to include, but sometimes so problematic if you don’t … all the names of people to be played by actors should be non-gender specific – Sam or Pat, for example – then you can be flexible with your choice of actors.

Give the actors context The other side of this is giving the actors as much information or experience as they need in order to be able to be natural. So, if they are required to be members of the organisation, they need to understand the language, the culture, the role they are playing, current internal issues, etc. This will enable them to act, and to act well – reacting realistically to the unexpected paths the delegates are sure to take them along. Good actors will want lots of this – they know how critical it is to the success or otherwise of the role playing. Once they have all this, leave them to play the roles – your starring role is running the de-brief. As John Malkovich said, “If you don’t interfere with me, I’ll always do something really good.”

Make scenarios win / win Creating challenging scenarios will assist in immersing the delegate into the role play. The more they have to think about in the scenario, the less they will be thinking about what else is happening outside of their interaction. Whilst they should be challenging, they must also be ‘winnable’. If there is no way the delegates can bring the matter or situation to a successful conclusion, they will justifiably not see it as a very useful learning experience.

The delegates meet the actors in role, not as themselves The first time I engaged with actors, I suggested that they should be introduced to the group at the start of the event, so that the group might feel more at ease with the role plays. The actors suggested against this as they said it would dilute the realism. I went with their suggestion, and whilst we didn’t test it both ways, I’m sure they were right.

The delegates met the actors when they walked into the room – as one of their staff. The delegates didn’t have to adjust, the actor was their member of staff.

Plan in at least twice as long for the debrief as the interaction The learning comes out in the debrief. To maximise the learning for all concerned you need to explore what happened, why it happened, overlay it with models and theories, explore what could have happened with a different approach, summaries the learning points, action plan … it takes time to do it well. And to make it as effective as possible, you need a good debrief structure …

Structure the de-brief effectively “Actors are all about entrances, but writers are all about exits” (Vincent H O’Neil).  Trainers are about exits, too. All the planning and preparation you have put in will not be maximised if your de-brief is unstructured. Debrief the delegate first – he or she is the person most likely to be affected, and feelings will dissipate most quickly. Affective Domain learning is often the most powerful, so don’t lose it!  Try this model – it has worked very well for me and many others over the years. And as you work through the model, if you ask the right questions, there will be very little need for you to make many learning points – your cast will of players will have made them. You might even think of yourself as the Director!

Using actors can be a powerful methodology, and in order to maximise the return on your investment of time, the delegates’ time and the cost of the actors, it needs to be managed effectively.

Try these tips. Let me know how they work. Are there any you would add?

Paul

Skills for Growth

Sunday, July 22nd, 2012

I got on the train at Harrogate. I sat behind a man who got up soon after we had pulled out of the station – he went to the toilet. The train pulled into the next station which is only about a mile from Harrogate Station, and he suddenly left the toilet and got off the train. He hadn’t left himself much time, I thought. Then he looked back into the train from the platform – he seemed to be looking at his seat. Why did he go to the toilet directly before the station he was getting off at? Why was he rushing? Why did he look back at his seat? I had so many questions.

Some of us sit happily in the ‘Reviewing the Experience’ stage of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC) or are shown to be strong Reflectors having undertaken Honey and Mumford’s Learning Styles questionnaire. For others, this reviewing or reflecting is not a strength, not something that comes easily or naturally. As you can probably tell from the first paragraph, it sits very comfortably with me … or should that be too comfortably?

What is this process? Rowntree (1988) says reflection is, “… studying one’s own study methods as seriously as one studies the subject and thinking about a learning task after you have done it”. Unless you do this, he says, the task – as a learning experience – will almost certainly be wasted. In any learning situation, he adds, you should prepare for it beforehand, participate actively during it, and reflect on it afterwards.

Donald Schon (1983) suggested that to reflect “on action” so as to engage in a process of continuous learning is one of the defining characteristics of professional practice. He argued that the model of professional training which loads students up with knowledge in training schools so that they can then discharge it when they enter the world of practice has never been a particularly good description of how professionals “think in action”, and is quite inappropriate to practice in a fast-changing world.

The cultivation of the capacity to reflect “on action” (after you have done it, retrospective thinking) and “in action” (while doing something, thinking on your feet) has rightly become an important feature of professional training programmes in many disciplines. It can also be argued that effective reflective practice needs another person such as a mentor or coach, who can ask appropriate questions to ensure that the reflection goes somewhere, and does not get bogged down in self-justification, self-indulgence or self-pity.

If the student can be coached to identify the feelings they have experienced and the thought processes they have used – to reflect on his/her own learning – then learning will continue at a much swifter pace and ultimately with less support from the coach or mentor.

As the makers of the man’s iPhone say, “Think Different”.

Enabling a person to initially reflect ‘on action’, and subsequently reflect ‘in action’ is the key to sustainable self-development. Due to its importance, trainers, coaches and facilitators have a responsibility to ensure that this is a golden thread throughout all their contact time.

Returning to the man on the train … I got to ask him all the questions I listed above. That’s because having seen him looking back into the train, I had a look around his seat – and I found his iPhone.

When I returned it to him a couple of days later he explained that he had fallen asleep. When he awoke he needed the toilet, but didn’t realise how close to his station he was.

If he had reflected in action – as opposed to on action – he may well have not gone to the toilet, and thus not lost his phone – a significant potential return on investment! And whilst I accept that most of us are not at our most effective when we wake from a sleep, the more practiced and engrained reflection is, the more likely it is to become the default position, and so just happen.

It all made me reflect on how my son had left his iPhone on a bus a year or so ago – he also spoke to the person who found it, but they didn’t return it. Not all reflection is helpful …

Paul

I Had a Dream …

Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Through the nervous 90’s, and on 99 not out … then the opportunity arrived … a slower ball … driven back past the bowler for a single … a maiden test century … and then, sadly, I woke up … Why was I dreaming about that very English game of cricket?  Ah yes, I went to sleep last night thinking about what to write in my one hundredth blog post. I quickly discounted – with a shiver at the thought – that this was an indication that I should explain the rules of cricket and how it is played. No, it was because this journey of writing a blog has been like a cricket innings.

At the outset I thought that it would be tricky – a bit like facing the new ball. As each idea to write about comes to mind, they are a bit like balls being bowled – some can be used and ‘posted’ to the outfield, whilst others should be left well alone. Sometimes there might be a dozen in a row to be left alone, at other times 2 or 3 good ones come along at once. And the weather conditions – or my outlook – can impact on the effectiveness of the posts.

And in the same way as when a cricketer makes a century, and the TV coverage reviews their 100 runs, I will review my experience of 100 blog posts.

When I set out, I had very little understanding of blogs and websites. I didn’t know whether to write a blog, but I was given one piece of crucial advice which made the decision for me. I was told that websites will rise up search rankings if their content is constantly being updated, and that a blog was one way of doing this. The other primary way was for me to update my own website, but my ineptitude in this area left me with just the one option.

I also read parts (I say ‘parts’ because I don’t think I can claim to have read a full book in at least 20 years) of the book “Naked Conversations” from which I really warmed to the idea of building on-line rapport with potential customers – by demonstrating where my expertise lies and helping others understand what makes me tick.

Those were my two reasons – ranking and rapport – which were countered with a large dollop of trepidation. What would I write about? Did I actually know anything of any value to others? Where would I find the time? Was I really comfortable opening myself up, warts and all?

However, as with many things we concern ourselves with in life, none of these issues materialised. And more importantly, there have been benefits, huge benefits. It has been personally fulfilling, a tremendously positive and enjoyable experience and has generated a small amount of client driven business from people I would never have otherwise met. So what have been my main learning points?

  • Returning to my dream I referred to at the start of this post … at the outset I found myself reviewing the day as my head hit the hay (I  haven’t intentionally attempted poetry yet!). I found myself asking  “What has happened today that links to learning and development or my business?” I found it a tremendously satisfying way to review and reflect on a set period of time.  It generated some really good stories. The next day I would write my post. And I have discovered that I just love spending a couple of hours writing, reflecting, thinking, questioning, writing, learning, considering, writing … and finally publishing!
  • By checking the ‘search strings’ I can see which particular blog posts are being found by people. This has helped me to understand where my expertise is perhaps welcomed and subject areas that are not as readily available on the internet as others (John Heron’s wonderful ‘6 Category Intervention Analysis’ and ‘Dimensions of Facilitator Style’ are two such subject areas). From this, I can give additional focus to areas which are of interest to readers.
  • By checking the statistics, every now and then I notice a website that has been paying a close interest in mine. This is usually because they have published one of my articles – sometimes for good reasons – and it is great to see my company logo in some e-magazine in some far off country – and sometimes as an error (I once used a Steps album cover as my photo, and I now have an unintentional presence on Steps lyrics website!)
  • There are very few down sides. The only one that springs to mind is the amount of spam comments I get – about 150 a day. The majority are deranged, illegal or obscene, but a few are misguided – like the glasses company that linked to my post describing how to create a Vision! On a different tack, I do also remember a rather lengthy discussion with my wife as to whether I should publish a blog about OFSTED in case it was libellous. I published.
  • I have learned that I can use one blog post on various media in addition to my website – for example Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter. I know I am connected to different people through all the different media, and so this facility enables me to contact as broad an audience as possible. My areas for future development here are to learn how (if possible) to get the comments generated via one form of media to populate the other forms automatically, and to develop  y use of other media.
  • I was also approached by Glasstap asking if they could publish my old blogs as articles (akin to a new film being released on DVD, I suppose) which has given me exposure to another market very relevant to my business.
  • And the final jewel in the crown – new business. After wondering many times whether the laudable principles described in “Naked Conversations” would work (build on-line rapport, show your expertise, never overtly sell a product or service) an email arrived out of the blue, saying “ … and having looked at your website and blog, I am interested in setting up a meeting with you. We have 4 senior executives who would benefit from coaching in Leadership skills amongst other things. Could you give me a ring when you are able please?” As I read it, I knew I was experiencing a significant moment on my blogging journey, in a similar way to 100 blog post  being an important point …

This reviewing of my ‘maiden century’ also comes along at an opportune time as professional colleagues have been discussing the pros and cons, and whys and wherefores of blogging.

I have no idea whether my experiences or enjoyment matches other people’s – each person has their own unique reasons for blogging. However, one of the ideas that I have seen and heard being discussed is having other people write blogs for you, and either being quite open about this, or, as one person has suggested, “… simply send to your clients as if it was your own work”.

I can understand why some people choose to have other people writing their blogs – better understanding of the internet, use of key words, reducing workload to work on other things – but it’s not for me. In my previous post I outlined my core foundations – how am I demonstrating realness, or being genuine if I pass off someone else’s work as mine? It certainly wouldn’t build that rapport I am seeking to achieve.

And I may miss out on business opportunities, but more importantly to me, I would miss out on my fun, my enjoyment, my sense of achievement. For me, using others to write my blog is the institutionalising of something that is expressive and perhaps rough round the edges – akin to choosing Paul Weller rather than The Jam, listening to Radio 1 over Radio Caroline, shopping at Waitrose as opposed to the Farmer’s Market and passing by the local coffee shop to savour a Starbucks.

A few weeks ago, a colleague said to me, “Every time I read your blog, I can hear you saying it”. Perfect! That pleased me no end, and if and when I stop writing my blog, if it had a headstone, that would be the best epitaph.

Blogging might not be for you, but if you are thinking about it, go for it. Just write! I’m so pleased I did. I’m sure you will enjoy it.

And hopefully my thoughts here might have taken a bit of shine off the new ball for when you come out to the wicket!

Paul

Losing Equilibrium and gaining learning

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

I was running a coaching session with a senior executive a couple of weeks ago and they got angry at me. In fact, I can’t remember anyone getting quite that angry with me for quite a while. I think the last time was when I was running a session with an intentional affective methodology. It involved some powerful music to demonstrate the potential impact of poorly delivered feedback, and then how to deal with a recipient’s negative emotions.

On this occasion, however, they were very different circumstances. The coachee has given me permission to talk about the experience in my blog, but I will not go into specifics. Suffice to say I asked a question, they answered it and then there was a realisation as to how uncomfortable they were with the particular value they realised that they held. And, not unexpectedly, they got angry at me. And it was ‘at’ me rather than ‘with’ me.

Half an hour later, everything was fine – no, it was better than fine. They had accessed some powerful learning, our relationship had developed further and I had a real sense of achievement. And it was all down to the Adult Learning Cycle (ALC).

This is a model that is little known about as far as I can see. Having Googled “Adult Learning Cycle”, I got pages of Kolb’s Experiential Learning Cycle (ELC). And whilst the two can be linked, they are very different. Having then Googled “Adult Learning Cycle Taylor”, I got a few hits in amongst all the ELCs. That’s because the model was developed – reasonably recently, in 1987 – by Marilyn Taylor.

Similarly to the ELC, the ALC has four stages. It is usually drawn in the form of a circular clock face with arrows pointing in a clockwise direction between each of the stages – and the stages are Equilibrium (12 o’clock), Disorientation (3 o’clock), Exploration (6 o’clock) and Re-orientation (9 o’clock). If that doesn’t help you picture it, here’s a link to a blog by a guy called Harold Jarche who has skills I do not have – he managed to create and post a diagram of it!

Going back to my coaching session, we had started happily in Equilibrium. What happened when I asked the question and my coachee suddenly realised about their potentially limiting value, was they moved quickly into Disorientation. It’s not a comfortable place to be for the person experiencing it. The coachee isn’t expecting it and so they can become confused, anxious – or angry at the source. And in a coaching situation, the source is often initially seen as the coach as they asked the question that prompted it. Hence why I said earlier that they were angry ‘at’ me rather than ‘with’ me.

Most people experiencing this want to get back to Equilibrium as quickly as possible – because it’s more comfortable there. Furthermore, they didn’t expect it, they’ve been caught by surprise and can feel vulnerable. If they do that, they ‘short circuit’ the model (by missing out the Exploration stage), and gain no learning.

This is the point at which the coach needs to support the individual, help them with their self-esteem and work with them regarding their motivation to explore the issue. The more that can be elicited from the Exploration of the matter, the more learning there will be. What was driving the Disorientation? What were the reasons for it being so impactive?

Once the Exploration has been completed, the Reorientation is where the coachee reflects on their findings and starts to make sense of it all. In the specific example of a couple of weeks ago, my coachee decided to change some of their work practices and prioritise aspects of work differently due to the learning. And then they are back in Equilibrium – but a slightly different person from the one they were when they were last in Equilibrium.

Due to the emotions involved, individuals working through the whole of the Adult Learning Cycle are often emotionally drained. It is worth helping them understand what they have been through – and the model really helps – so that they can see it is not an unusual process, and that it is how we can develop deep learning. Having said that, I generally only spend a short time on it at that point, and spend a longer time on it when we next meet – when they are less tired. If the person understands the process, there is more potential for them to be able to work themselves through such issues in the future – or assist other people.

It really is a great model. And as Taylor herself explained, “In my experience, many more learners are at the threshold of change than realize this fact. Even those who start out saying, ‘I just want a piece of paper’ or ‘I need this for my job’ often find that what they really wanted was to look at their life choices in new ways”.

So really, you never know when it’s going to happen!

Paul

PS – if you want to watch a vlog I have made about the Adult Learning Cycle (including a diagram!) as a result of experiences in the Grand Canyon, please click here