Deliberate Experiential Learning

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Few of us realize it, but odds are these days that each of us is involved to some degree in at least one of three distinct learning journeys:

        #1: Improving individual and interpersonal skills that we already have.

        #2: Acquiring new personal and professional skills that we’ve never needed before.

        #3: Developing new mindsets that are relevant to today's and tomorrow's emerging complexities.

I’m involved in each of these, for sure. I'll bet you are too. Whether we know it or not, whether we want to or not, whether or not it’s something we've asked for, the odds are good that we’re both caught up in at least small pieces of one or more of these three journeys.

There's an ancient Chinese curse which says, “May you live in interesting times.” For many reasons, there's no doubt this curse is true today. We're all living in a world that's being rapidly engulfed in unprecedented technological, political, and cultural changes. If we’re going to survive and thrive in the midst of the “interesting times” these changes are bringing, each of us must start adapting and learning in ways that are new to us all.

Boatloads of research, as well as our own personal experiences, speak to the ways in which we're all being asked to adapt and learn in ways that are unprecedented in all of human history. With no formal assistance to speak of, we're all facing the challenge of mastering the insights and skills associated with life-long learning while we're simultaneously being asked to turn around and use these new skills to help us effectively adapt and respond to this century's radical transformations. Who knew?

Self-Directed Learning

In their simplest forms, TLO’s Self-Directed Learning program are all amplified and extended versions of David Kolb’s original experiential learning cycle. Which looks like this.

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Stripped to its barest bones, like it is in this diagram, David Kolb's experiential learning cycle makes one key point: All the learning that we we either need or want to do must include this cycle's four basic “macro skills." That is;

1.    Concrete Experience: The ability to consciously experience, on a moment-to-moment basis, the on-going events in our lives.

2.    Reflective Observation: The ability to deliberately reflect on a variety of consciously remembered experiences.

3.    Abstract Conceptualization: The ability to consciously evaluate and conceptualize these remembered experiences, identifying for ourselves their strengths and weaknesses.

4.    Active Experimentation: The ability to proactively extract from these reconstructed experiences the lessons learned that show us where we need to develop new ways of behaving in and relating to the world.

In my October 2017 blog, “Coming of Age in the 21st Century,” and in my November 2017 blog, “Focused Attention, Deliberate Practice, and Balanced Learning Styles,” I discussed Kolb's basic learning model in some detail. In particular, in both these blogs, I proposed the idea that a balanced mastery of Kolb’s four “macro-skill sets” (i.e., Active Experimentation, Reflective Observation, Abstract Conceptualization, and Active Experimentation) is the key to stepping into and successfully launching each of TLO’s three learning journeys.

In “Focused Attention, Deliberate Practice, and Balanced Learning Styles,” I also emphasized the idea that a balanced learning style is the fulcrum that lets us leverage each one of these three learning journeys in support of our pursuit of personal and professional development, as well as our life-long effort to develop the overarching adaptive capabilities we need to flourish in what's quickly becoming a very messy world.

In this month's blog, I take both these ideas one step further and suggest that available research, extensive thought partnering, and a good deal of personal experience all prove that, inside each of Kolb's four learning cycle stages, there are an important array of micro-skill sets -- perhaps as many as three dozen -- that need to be understood, developed, and honed.

Here’s a graphic that identifies and categorizes some of the most important of these micro-skills:

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TLO’s Developmental Programs

Over the last several years I've proven, at least to my satisfaction, the proposition that mastering any complex new skill set will, as Herb Simon and Anders Ericsson suggest, most likely take thousands of hours of deliberate practice. This is especially true if our learning efforts follow the uncoordinated, haphazard, and mostly unconscious trial and error approach that most of us tend to use.

However, I've also demonstrated that, when we integrate Simon's focused attention skills with Ericsson's deliberate practice skills, and then tie both of these micro-skill sets into Kolb's four-stage approach to experiential learning, we can create for ourselves a conscious learning process that significantly accelerates the pace and effectiveness of our personal learning efforts.  In fact, I'm finding that this kind conscious, integrative approach can reduce the time it takes to master complex new interpersonal or professional skills to something well below the 10,000 hours that Simon originally proscribed.

Accordingly, I've added the focused attention skills that Simon explored in his book, Skill in Chess, and the deliberate practice techniques that Ericsson developed in his book, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise, to TLO's experiential learning model. The result is one fully integrated, thoroughly comprehensive learning program that, for me and several TLO Thought Partners, is creating some intriguing experiences and promising results. I've titled this new approach to learning, TLO’s Inform, Educate, & Transform Program.