I Can See Clearly Now

When six-year-old Alec had his first eye exam at school, he was informed that he need­ed glass­es. Why had he not men­tioned this to any­one?  Did he not know that he couldn’t see well?   His par­ents imme­di­ate­ly took him to the oph­thal­mol­o­gist who exam­ined him, then iden­ti­fied the cus­tomized lens­es that would switch his 20/100 vision to 20/20.  When Alec put on his glass­es for the first time, he looked out the win­dow and said, “I nev­er knew that trees had tiny branch­es and leaves!”

Although obvi­ous once his vision was cor­rect­ed, Alec was unable to know what was miss­ing from his view. He had adapt­ed to what was habit­u­al, and he didn’t know what he couldn’t see. Glass­es helped, but only because they were cus­tom-made just for him.

When we train and up-skill peo­ple in our orga­ni­za­tions, we often give them mate­ri­als and man­u­als to read, with no con­sid­er­a­tion that they might need a cus­tom lens to man­age the learn­ing.  The same holds true when we expect peo­ple to work on teams, make deci­sions, and inno­vate with­out mak­ing sure that they are see­ing the whole picture.

With expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing, we have the mod­els, the tools, and the test­ed process­es to enable peo­ple to take charge of their own cus­tomized learn­ing and devel­op­ment; like find­ing a lens for the mind’s eye that will allow them to view them­selves clear­ly as they learn. This is not learn­ing in the restrict­ed sense of being in a class­room.  It is how we live our lives, solve prob­lems, make deci­sions, part­ner, and parent.

“It was like flip­ping on the light switch when I learned about expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing and the process of learn­ing.  It was com­plete­ly life chang­ing,” said Lena, a cor­po­rate com­mu­ni­ca­tions pro­fes­sion­al.  By under­stand­ing the ide­al process to use when mak­ing changes, Lena learned that she had had a blind spot in her own sight line.  She was obliv­i­ous to the need to prac­tice what she read about and watched role mod­els do, so that she could get feed­back on her own abil­i­ties.  In fact, she rec­og­nized that she had so lit­tle expe­ri­ence get­ting feed­back that she actu­al­ly avoid­ed prac­tic­ing for fear of neg­a­tive feed­back. Once Lena real­ized that the learn­ing cycle mapped the way peo­ple are wired to learn, she took more chances to imme­di­ate­ly try things out rather than just think­ing about them.  For instance, when her com­pa­ny pro­vid­ed a com­mu­ni­ca­tion effec­tive­ness train­ing, Lena imme­di­ate­ly test­ed out the prin­ci­ples with her boss, her hus­band, and her co-work­ers.  If she paid atten­tion, she real­ized that the envi­ron­ment was con­stant­ly pro­vid­ing feed­back about her abil­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate effec­tive­ly if she used a learn­ing lens on life.

Once we help indi­vid­ual employ­ees to pay atten­tion to their own learn­ing needs – in effect, pro­vid­ing pre­scrip­tion lens­es – we are doing so much more than just teach­ing or train­ing; we are giv­ing them the tools to take with them in all aspects of their lives. The old adage “Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a life­time” applies here: Give peo­ple a lens that allows them to see, and you empow­er them to learn for life.

To take this anal­o­gy even fur­ther, the expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing lens allows indi­vid­u­als to not only see them­selves with more clar­i­ty – their own learn­ing styles and adjust­ments they need to make in order to learn more suc­cess­ful­ly – but expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing also helps us see how oth­ers learn, which is nec­es­sary to work togeth­er suc­cess­ful­ly in teams, and for a com­mon organization.

And these metaphor­i­cal glass­es can zoom, too. See­ing things through an expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing lens allows you to zoom in and out, to see where you are on the learn­ing cycle and what to do next to take man­age any sit­u­a­tion more effec­tive­ly.  It’s all “learn­ing”!

Once indi­vid­u­als put on the expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing lens, peo­ple can become more effec­tive in any cir­cum­stance.  If peo­ple need to tran­si­tion, upskill, or move from a posi­tion of indi­vid­ual con­trib­u­tor to leader, pre­pare them first with the expe­ri­en­tial learn­ing lens.  Once they can see clear­ly – even those things they did not even know were missing—they will nev­er be able to unsee what they have dis­cov­ered.  Then, oth­ers can watch them trans­form in the process.


Kay Peter­son is founder and CEO of The Insti­tute for Expe­ri­en­tial Learn­ing. To learn more about the insti­tute and her work, vis­it https://www.experientiallearninginstitute.org/.