Using outdoors as a classroom is interesting, fascinating and more importantly effective.
The term outbound has been adopted from the Navy, where a ship is said to be outward bound when it leaves its shores to sail into the unknown, rough sea. Similarly when we go out in a camp, we leave our shore, i.e., the comfort zone of our home and work place and travel to a new, open place in a natural environment with minimum comforts.
Experiential learning is a process of transformation when, as a result of experience, one is inspired to apply in life, what emerges as a revelation or self-discovery. We generally follow the Kolb Cycle, which states that in life we have an experience, we think about it (reflection), then we talk about it or write it (recording) and finally we analyse (processing), leading to another experience where we may apply the learning. Therefore it becomes a spiral of learning. This can also be described as the whole learning wheel, from goal setting, to experimenting and observing, to reviewing, and finally action planning.
You remember how you learnt cycling? Someone helped you support the cycle. You fumbled, fell down several times till you ‘got’ it. That was how you learnt the balance. I call it the ‘aah’ effect. You discover it and then it stays with you for life. Whether it was a burn which you experienced as a child, or tasting of honey, or learning swimming or cycling, they stay with you for life. You do not need to relearn it. That’s not true for academics or subjects you learnt in the classroom.
Leadership and team building are two such subjects that are best learnt on the ‘experiential learning’ platform. You may read books on leadership and team building, but to be a good team player or an effective leader you have to experience it, just as a cook needs to cook in the kitchen. Reading recipes and learning by heart may help, but does not substitute the act of cooking.
In our camp we provide the experience in the form of a team activity. It is an interesting outdoor game. Participants enjoy a new experience, generally one they have never experienced before. After the activity is over participants reflect on the activity by writing down their emotions, their feelings, their sad, mad and glad moments. This is followed by a small group discussion in which teams go through the entire sequence and record what happened, what did not happen, and why. Then we facilitate the process of drawing out lessons from their experiences. What they learn from such experiences gets filtered into the subconscious mind and settles down as a way of life. To reinforce this we conduct a follow-up session after two to three months of the programme.
Experiential learning is extremely effective. We create an environment which lends itself to a new and interesting experience where all participants are at par in their knowledge about the tasks and projects that they face. There is nothing at stake. Your reputation, job security, promotion, a salary increase, nothing is affected. A unique set of projects and situations requires people to draw upon genuine team process skills as opposed to just functional ones.
Interacting in close proximity whilst working on new and unfamiliar challenges, makes the entire process very interesting. The interaction, communication and collaboration and efforts that are required to meet these challenges develop wonderful, everlasting relationships in a very short time. It engages people at a more personal level. People may get to know each other better in a single day within this environment than over an entire year of normal working conditions.
In these activities, one’s true colours emerge. One cannot pretend or put up a false front for long. The group projects their communication skills, problem-solving capability, organizing ability, and leadership style into the experience. The experience provides a unique opportunity to catch participants doing what they typically do, in spite of knowing otherwise. The learning arising from this is profound and revealing.
Teams are able to experience chaos, disorder, crisis and changing requirements for success in a safe environment where the consequences for failure are limited. The team can develop strategies and best practices for managing these issues both in this environment and back at work.
The experience allows participants to take new risks, try on new roles and make mistakes with no danger or cost. Each person taking a risk pushes others to take on something outside of their comfort zone. There are always individuals who shine in this environment – whose leadership ability hasn’t been noticed at work.
The team challenges and activities are designed to include a variety of elements that will challenge a range of team role skills. In other words input from all team members will be required to produce outcomes from projects specifically designed not to suit just one team role style or behaviour. One person cannot possibly succeed alone and so the interdependence of the team is highlighted along with the importance of diversity within the team.
The entire learning happens while having fun. We create a highly interesting and enjoyable learning environment in which participants learn about and develop team and management process skills with ease and in comfort.
Experiential learning is effective both indoors as well as outdoors. Yet, the outdoor environment with the terrain, weather and environmental challenges make it more challenging and therefore can result in more effective learning. Teachers in schools and colleges can reinforce their classroom teachings with experiential education. Learning is more effective and lasts much longer.
As stated by the ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius, “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.”
Brig. Sushil Bhasin is Chairman and Managing Director of Empower Activity Camps.