!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Models of Experiential Learning

Friday, April 11, 2008

Models of Experiential Learning

I recently came upon a pair of articles touting experiential learning models from outside the world of business that the articles' authors argue have relevance for how companies can most effectively develop employees.

As it turns out, only one of the articles actually contributes some fresh food for thought.

In "Crucibles of Leadership Development," Robert J. Thomas explains how the Mormon Church and the Hells Angels handle leadership development,1 but these two organizations' practices, as described, don't seem to offer much new. Thomas concludes with four predictable lessons (partly paraphrased here):
  1. Use core activities of your organization as opportunities for rising leaders to practice application of leadership skills.

  2. Prepare learners carefully before they embark on field activities. "[The Mormons and the Hells Angels] teach technical skills, certainly, but also critical leadership intangibles such as a sense of the rules of the road, how to spot oncoming trouble and ways to preserve one's identity and sense of wholeness while engaging with others."

  3. Provide a supporting infrastructure. "Seasoned senior companions and supervisors are on the scene who know how to encourage and when to say no. Their role is not just a job: It's a statement of commitment to the individuals in need and to the organization's mission."

  4. Use experiential learning activities to develop new leaders, keep the organization's culture healthy, and attract new talent.
In "Hospitals Show How to Accelerate Learning," by contrast, Jared Bleak and Stephanie Scott, offer a stimulating review of how teaching hospital train medical students, interns, and residents, with suggestions for appropriate translation to the business setting of the principles and practices in question.2 (In fairness, I must note that Bleak and Scott do not go into detail about how to accomplish the translation.)

Bleak and Scott cite four core values that underlie how teaching hospitals handle their teaching mission:
  1. "Teaching and learning are cornerstone values of these organizations and are espoused and modeled by leaders at every level of the organizational hierarchy."

  2. "In America's best teaching hospitals, good teaching also is rewarded and established as an organizational and individual priority."

  3. "... assessment and feedback are ubiquitous and continuously employed through various means such as formal testing for medical certification, 30 seconds of real-time feedback after a medical procedure and in-depth portfolios created by medical students to show evidence of skills and knowledge. Even the quality of teaching is assessed and carefully monitored."

  4. "... teaching opportunities are created from certain near misses and outright errors. By exploring these situations during mandatory, routine conferences as well as through informal conversation, individuals glean personal and systemic lessons from medical errors."
Bleak and Scott then cite three fundamental principles teaching hospitals follow:
  • "Everybody in the teaching hospital has a role as teacher and is expected to be continually learning, all in the pursuit of providing the best possible patient care."

  • "Learning is measured through formal testing and credentialing, as well as through extensive real-time observation and feedback."

  • "[Individuals] ... learn as members of a medical team while addressing real-time patient problems. Not only does this problem-based and team-learning approach provide an excellent venue for learning, it also affords top-quality patient care.
Finally, Bleak and Scott cite three key practices that grow out of the aforementioned values and principles:
  1. Have the "point of the wedge" speak first. The "point of the wedge" is the resident on a medical team, "tasked with diagnosing and recommending a course of action for the patient." "The wedge — composed of attending physicians, fellow residents, medical students, nurses, physical therapists and other caregivers — provides continual and constructive support to the 'point'."

    "This practice of pushing responsibility to the most [sic] junior person accelerates and deepens learning and personal development. ... being the point of the wedge requires them to prepare rigorously and present confidently, thereby improving their planning and communication skills."

  2. Employ the Socratic method, i.e., ask thought-provoking questions, as opposed to simply telling the learner what to think and do, in order "to stimulate enlightening conversation and ultimately increase understanding of a patient's situation or condition."

  3. "Own" the patient, i.e., embrace responsibility for carefully diagnosing, treating, and monitoring the patient.
Bleak and Scott readily acknowledge that not all of what is standard practice at a teaching hospital is directly transferable to the corporate setting. On the other hand, versions of the three practices listed above — make the learner the point of the wedge, use the Socratic method (within reason), and own the client/issue — will speed learning and employee development, with attendant benefits in terms of productivity, knowledge sharing, and recruitment and retention.

1 "Crucibles of Leadership Development," Robert J. Thomas, MIT Sloan Management Review (v. 40, no. 3 (Spring 2008)), pp. 15-18.

2 "Hospitals Show How to Accelerate Learning," Jared Bleak and Stephanie Scott, Chief Learning Officer, April 2008. An interesting sidebar describes how Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago has complemented its traditional teaching model with the approach to providing constructive feedback that is viewed as best practice in the corporate world.


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