NZIM EXECUTIVE LEARNING : Experiential Learning

New Zealand Management, May 2010 | Go to article overview

NZIM EXECUTIVE LEARNING : Experiential Learning


Byline: Reg Birchfield

Aristotle reportedly once said that: a[euro]For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.a[euro] As executive summaries go, that probably encapsulates experiential learning as succinctly as any.

David A Kolb, the American educational theorist who made his name by articulating and describing the process, believed that experience is critical to learning. The term experiential learning differentiates the process from learning by rote or other cognitive learning processes. As Nike says: a[euro]Just do ita[euro], and then learn through reflecting on what has been done, what worked and what didna[euro]t. In other words, experience it.

Henry Mintzberg, John Cleghorn professor of management studies at McGill University in Montreal, and one of the worlda[euro]s most provocative and stimulating management thinkers, advocates what he calls a[euro]management by reflectiona[euro] in his latest book Managing. He makes a profoundly strong case for his new take on what is, I suggest, just a refinement of experiential learning which, if you think about it, is as old as time itself. Consider the case of cro magnon man around the campfire analysing the cock-ups made at the daya[euro]s mammoth hunt, which resulted in them eating squirrel for dinner instead.

Mintzberg is currently re-defining the experiential process by talking about more self-directed learning. His idea of a class without instructors is based on grounding the class in on-the-spot problem solving with participants working on a[euro]real-world casesa[euro] that they bring to class. He calls it a[euro]natural developmenta[euro].

He recently told Strategy+Business magazine that he and his colleagues were putting managers at round tables where they can a[euro]reflect on their own work and othersa[euro] experiencesa[euro]. They did this to contrast with the traditional say, MBA approach of a[euro]studying other [unknown] peoplea[euro]s experiencesa[euro].

But, however the gurus explain and refine it, experiential learning already underpins the way in which the New Zealand Institute of Management, for example, delivers its key learning programmes. The approach, says NZIM Northern chief executive Kevin Gaunt, a[euro]enables participants to apply their theoretical learning on the programme and then have their understanding and application of the learning assesseda[euro].

a[euro]What we find,a[euro] says Gaunt, a[euro]is that our customers are looking more and more for a visible demonstration that the participant can apply their learning and add value to their organisation by going on our course.

a[euro]Our key point of differentiation is that our learning programmes are delivered by experienced management practitioners. They then become the facilitators of the shared learning experiences.a[euro]

According to Gaunt, the approach is rooted in the organisationa[euro]s history. a[euro]NZIM was established by managers after the Second World War to help returning servicemen to gain management experience for a new life on civvy street. Practising managers were the teachers. This has continued to be our differentiator. But irrespective of the history, there is still a growing demand for this approach, and particularly among todaya[euro]s X and Y generations.a[euro]

Experiential learning, according to the experts, doesna[euro]t really need a teacher because it relates to reflection and contextual consideration of the individuala[euro]s direct experience.

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