Adding Experiential Learning to Your Event Mix

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I think we can safely say that millennials are not the only ones driving the experiential trend. Folks of all ages were given gifts this holiday season that involved doing and not opening. One early indicator was when I passed by the Muse Paint Bar the other day—one of those paint-and-sip-wine experiential places—it was packed with a diverse group of would-be artists.

AssociationsNow pointed me to a really good blog post last week: Six Trends Observed in Experiential Learning from The National Conference Center just outside Washington, D.C., in Leesburg, Va.

Let's go through their trends:

  • Learning through Application – This one is very interesting for publishers. As many of us continue to increase our events, the thinking is that we don't follow up enough on the learning we deliver there. "While debriefing is a structured process facilitated by a skilled professional throughout the process of a program, it has been in place for some time. Today a post program application assists participants over time with how learning translates back at the office. There are a number of strategies that can be arranged to help facilitate this continued learning process. These include, self-directed debrief meetings, professional coaching sessions by phone or in person, or follow up, mini sessions at the one, two or three month intervals..."

    So if you have something at your event that's particularly popular or successful, perhaps you create a sub-group of those attendees and then follow up with them to see how they're doing.
  • Learning by Doing – "Learners participate in carefully chosen experiences that are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis. It engages the learners to be in direct experience, to be doing something that connects to an area they hope to improve or develop." This would correlate to a more problem-solving type of event, where participants would be active not passive. In a pre-conference session, Matt Bailey once asked attendees to come up with a "five-or-so word" description of their business. "'And' is not your friend here," he warned. "You don't need to say everything. Mine might be, 'I teach companies to make more money.' When we try to say everything to everyone we wind up saying nothing to anyone. What are the values and benefits that matter to your customers/members?" Bailey asked. It was a good exercise, and attendees left with value.
  • Learning by Shared Experiences – This involves "creating 'shared experiences,' such as a building project, where everyone is involved collectively—from C-level executives to assistant managers—taking each participant out of their comfort zone and into a creative problem-solving task to construct the future." This seems pretty similar to number two, with the value of leaving with something substantive.
  • The other three probably don't pertain quite as much: Barrier-free Learning—where learning is more lab-like; Learning by Choice—which involves physical training; and Learning by Silence—at first, I mostly dismissed this one but they say it is becoming more popular. "Facilitators are allowing more time for conferees' solo quests, reflection, meditation time and movements like yoga that can provide powerful reconnection with the natural world, and the true inner self, opening new channels of connection and learning."

Does this mean we'll see a silent session, yoga class or trapeze training—they have a picture depicting this—at SIPA 2017? Probably not. But we also shouldn't just dismiss out-of-the-box stuff. The National Conference Center went to some expense to install a state-of-the-art challenge course last year, consisting of "five low elements plus many portable options, which are weight-bearing, problem-solving activities that can accommodate 15 or more people..." So there must be demand.

Regardless, experiential learning is here to stay. And we should all stay open-minded about the type that might work best for our audience.


Ronn Are you subscribed to the SIPAlert Daily?
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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…