Experiential Training: “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” … but I will never forget how you made me feel

Published on: Mon 3 March 2014 by Admin

This well-known quote by the Chinese philosopher & reformer Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) is often quoted in the marketing material of training providers who are advocates of the more modern approach to learning and development. And you can see why when it promotes activity as a way of ensuring the effectiveness of a learning intervention. That this philosopher should write such a thing is hardly surprising when we consider that the core of Confucianism is humanism; the essence of this quote radiates an understanding of people and how they naturally respond to the stimuli around them.

As John Gould (1804-1881), the prominent English ornithologist and bird artist, so neatly put it, ‘a lecture is an occasion when you numb one end to benefit the other’. We have all experienced this type of learning event, both inside and outside the university auditorium. Although of course, there are exceptions. This year the Dimbleby Lecture was given by the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, Christine Lagarde. It was amazing! She clearly outlined her predictions for the future economy in a highly inspirational and creative way. As this lecture was only a few weeks ago, and not a distant memory, it is easy to recall what she said.

In 2010, Terry Pratchett, the prominent Author, was invited to give the Dimbleby Lecture, however, due to him suffering with Alzheimer’s and the state of his condition at the time, the lecture was read by Tony Robinson on his behalf. The lecture was entitled ‘Shaking Hands with Death’; it dealt with the very sensitive subject of assisted death. I remember this lecture well despite it being four years ago now and even though I cannot recall exactly what was said, I can remember exactly how it made me feel.

For me, provoking feelings is what makes learning stick in the long term memory. During the process of designing a learning intervention, be it an exercise, an event, or a role-play, we do well to consider how the learner is going to feel, both during the intervention and long after experiencing it. If learning is to be effective we need to extend the experience so that learners feel; whether that is to ‘feel what negative customer service is like’, or to ‘feel what it is like to be on the receiving end of a poorly planned appraisal interview’ or to ‘feel the benefits of being completely inclusive in team meetings’, for example.

Delegates who feel the boost of being more confident, the joy of discovering something new, the thrill of doing a task they never thought they could, the fulfilment of overcoming a challenge and the camaraderie of working successfully with colleagues, are more likely to take the newfound skills and knowledge learned during the training, and use it.

Learning outcomes will be greatly enhanced if they are heartfelt. Or as Maya Angelou, an American author and poet, so nicely put it: ‘I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.

Thank you Maya.