Thursday, 30 January 2014

Three Levels of Activity Design

When we design training exercises, they have three levels.

Well, actually, that's not quite fair. In fact, all training exercises and activities have three levels. It's just that most trainers don't know about the third level, so the results of the activity are unpredictable and the training program fails to achieve its outcomes. This is a particular problem with 'team building' events run by the people who manage outdoor activity centres and the like.

The result is that your team gets a day off, has a lovely time, but completely fails to address the reasons why they're not performing effectively.

Activity Structure The rules of the activity itself; what to do with what, where and when
Learning Outcome What the trainer wants the learners to take away from the activity, such as the conclusion that 'teamwork is important'
Learning Experience What the learners have to covertly do or experience in order to achieve the learning outcome

The third level of Learning Experience, the hidden level, is missing when the trainer focuses on the learning outcome. The problem with the top two levels is that the learners know that they're happening, so they 'play along' and second guess what's supposed to happen. Partially, we could see this as a conspiracy with the trainer, who of course wants an easy life and wants the learners to write "I learned that teamwork is important" on their feedback forms, therefore proving that the trainer did a great job.

Whilst the learners may be able to recite this great insight, it doesn't mean anything to them. Most importantly, it makes absolutely no difference to how they perform as a team.

What does make a difference is what they do, what they experience, that they don't know is happening until it's over and they have achieved something much more valuable than a superficial learning outcome.

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