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Experiential Learning by Sue Knight

Sue Knight

Sue Knight

A very abstract term for a very active process. A term often quoted but rarely abided by. I run trainings in NLP – Neuro Linguistic Programming. NLP is the study of the structure of subjective experience. Very technical! In other words ways to learn from our experience in ways that we become the best that we can be and facilitate others to do the same. Words!

Despite those words and that definition I rarely meet people who are truly able to do this.

“What is the timetable?”
“Could I have the agenda in advance”
“Tell me what I have to do!
“How can I get the best out of my…”
“What is the right way to …”
“What is going to happen next ..”

I frequently get asked these kinds of questions. And .. the answer is in the experience. But we have become accustomed to being spoon fed with models, processes, structures… In school I was encouraged to write down what the teacher wrote on the board and not to ask questions. In work many are encouraged to pay attention to the problems, avoid risk, work hard. None of these really support learning from experience. When asking for volunteers for an undefined experience in a training in the UK there are often cautious looks and questions. Whereas hands shoot up in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Africa. Presenting to a room full of several thousand children in India as part of a BrainoBrain* competition day the only words that came out of my mouth were “Who would … “ before virtually every little brown hand in the house was waving frantically in the air.

NLP is a way of learning to embrace a state of not knowing, of being open to feedback and living and working in the present; being ‘real time’.

Last week during one of my training programmes I set the group a task with a deadline of 1530 to be back together task completed. Checking the progress of everyone I decided to bring the completion time forward by 10 mins and told the group. One lady looked up ashen faced. “You said 1530” she blurted adamantly!. “I’ve changed it”. I replied. She stormed into the room and when one of the other delegates questioned “Did Sue say the finish time was 1530?” this lady almost shouted back “She lied!”.

We reviewed her reaction subsequently and discovered that her liking for procedure dominated her life sometimes usefully and very often unproductively. “When I heard you change the deadline I was almost in tears” she said. We discussed all of this and she realised how important predictability had become in her life. She was shocked and able to laugh about it. If we had not had that moment, this learning would not have surfaced in quite the same way. This kind of learning does not usually emerge in predictable scheduled safe scenarios.

In the winter months I run programmes in India. For many people their attendance on a programme there may be their first visit. And it is an experience. Most things in India are an experience. Almost without doing much at all I can guarantee that we have the foundations for huge learning. Especially if the participants are willing to open themselves up to this kind of learning. That is my job – to facilitate that.

What does it take? It takes a willingness to believe that we never ultimately fail.. we can however always learn, especially if we are truly open to feedback in whatever form it comes. Melissa Cohen one of the participants in the TV show ‘The Apprentice’ had an ‘experience’ – and had some tough feedback that she was always very willing to transmit but not receive! Nothing that she said during or after her eviction suggested that she had taken this feedback on board. She looked quite different on the review programme –‘ You’re Fired’ and clearly been coached on her image. She had changed her hair, her glasses, her image – yet her default behaviour took maximum 10 minutes to emerge!

So an experience with no openness to feedback is just an experience and likely to be repeated in much the same way as before. If you were ever in any doubt about our natural ability to do this Watch this

An experience with an openness to feedback is learning. And it is those who learn the fastest that have the competitive advantage in this increasingly changing world. Look at India!!

*BrainOBrain is an organisation nurturing the children of the world to discover their natural leadership talents.

Sue Knight author NLP at Work, International Trainer, Coach and Speaker and Feldenkrais facilitator.

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by sue knight, sue knight and Andy Coote, Bizwords, paul wright. paul wright said: RT @sueknight: Experiential learning […]

  2. Jean Kelly says:

    I enjoyed this article, Sue. It confirmed my thinking – I have just taken on an apprentice who hated school and wasn’t that successful. He couldn’t take being talked at or put on the spot by the teachers. With me, he is learning through doing – we often work out how to do things together or he ‘fiddles’ till he understands something then confidently explains to me how to do it – for example, computer programmes. His confidence is growing by the minute and he is enjoying himself. And so am I! Best wishes, Jean

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