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Research in Experiential Learning


Research by Roger Greenaway

Powerful Learning Experiences in Management Learning and Development

A study of the experiences of managers attending residential development training courses at the Brathay Hall Trust.
'Development training' is defined as 'a form of experiential learning that is intensified by the use of challenging activities'
University of Lancaster, Centre for the Study of Management Learning (PhD Thesis: 1995)
Abstract | Findings & Summaries | Interviews | Learning Cycles | References | Download Info | email

Why Adventure?

The Role and Value of Outdoor Adventure in Young People's Personal and Social Development
A Review of Research by Jon Barrett and Dr. Roger Greenaway commissioned by the Foundation for Outdoor Adventure (1995)
A survey of process and outcome research. It includes implications for practice, evaluation, and (naturally!) further research.
Summary and Ordering Details | Some Chapter Summaries | References | email

The Training and Development of Development Trainers

Research Project presented to the Manpower Services Commission
The Brathay Hall Trust (1986)

The Competences of Development Trainers

by Caroline Bill and Roger Greenaway
The Training Agency, Manpower Services Commission (1989)
ISBN 0 86392 300-3

Development Training Pages on this site


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Enabling Facilitator or Intrusive Complicator?

An introduction to my research interests and to some of the ways in which these link to my work as a training consultant in reviewing skills.

For many years I have been receiving phone calls and letters (now emails) from researchers asking for assistance. Most enquiries have been about the evaluation of outdoor development programmes. This is a popular but difficult research area. In 'Why Adventure?' (co-authored with Jon Barrett) some of these issues are discussed and some ideas are offered about how to avoid the pitfalls of past research in this area.

My own particular research interest (see Powerful Learning Experiences) is that of finding out more about what people are actually experiencing during their course or programme. This may ultimately lead to the development of evaluation methods that are more sensitive to the uniqueness of each learner's adventure/experience. But my primary interest as a training consultant is to help people develop reviewing skills that acknowledge and bring out the individual stories-in-the-making that create the links between experience and learning. This enriches the learning of all involved in the process and enhances the prospects for learning transfer (and for satisfied customers!).

But from my own standpoint, the prospect of better evaluation methods is an extra benefit that might arise from my primary interest in what people experience. As a trainer, I thought I knew what learners were experiencing (because I kept on asking them!), but as a researcher I came to realise how presumptious this attitude was. As trainers we are helping people to learn from their experiences - but we don't really know what they are experiencing, let alone how these experiences fit into their lives and/or work. And learners themselves may not be fully in touch with their own experiences. In this uncertain world of learning from experience, what kind of facilitation really helps people to learn and grow through experience?

Reviews that are too shallow or too deep can be harmful to the learning process. The task of facilitators is to make learning easy for learners - not to practise magic arts, blind with science or rehearse for a future career as chat show hosts. Our task is also to help learners develop their own learning abilities - so it is important that our methods are as transparent as possible and that we do not take over and try to do people's learning for them.

Our task as facilitators, I believe, is threefold:

  1. to enhance learners' experiences - by raising their awareness levels during experiences and making it easy for them to communicate their experiences during reviews.
  2. to enhance learners' own reviewing abilities - initially by enouraging and helping them to reflect on their experiences from a range of different perspectives
  3. to enhance learners' understanding of their own learning processes - so that they become better (experiential) learners.
This approach keeps learners centre stage and it focuses on the obvious but essential elements of learning from experience - what learners experience and how learners learn from these experiences. Our job is to make learners experts. We give them the tools and assistance that they need. If in trying to do so our own expertise gets in the way, then we may be drifting towards a more traditional teaching model in which we are (in effect) using experience as a sweetener for more didactic methods - rather than using experience as the primary source of learning.

In learning effectively from experience, the experience is central and the learner is central. As facilitators we need to be continually seeking ways of working productively around the edges. We may occasionally take centre stage ourselves, but we must be on our guard against inadvertently taking over from what learners are already taking responsibility for doing. This means building research and evaluation into our practice. Without such monitoring, we risk disrupting the chances of learning, with the embarrassing result that the only change is the one we are making - from 'enabling facilitator' to 'intrusive complicator'!

These three strategies can turn 'intrusive complicators' back into 'enabling facilitators':

  1. We ask learners what is helping and hindering their learning.
    We should ask them while we are still working with them, so that they themselves can benefit from any changes that might follow. Learners' own insights and perspectives on the process of learning have a major influence on what learning strategies will be most successful. While doing this ...
  2. .. we demonstrate our own confidence in the process of learning from experience.
    We do this by ensuring that our many facilitative roles include the role of being a learner. By trying to be better learners we become better facilitators. We recognise that everyone in a learning group (including ourselves) is both a learner and a facilitator of other people's learning. We make full use of these resources.
  3. We notice the realities and possibilities with this group of learners.
    How we work with current experience matters more than what worked well in another time and place with other people. Our experience and knowledge of 'similar situations' or 'familiar types' is useful background but no more than this. We can draw from our past experience, but we should not use it to trace over present experiences. How we work should be a creative response to this situation.
A suitable choice of creative reviewing methods helps to inspire and sustain a lively flow of communication about learning and experience. In such a climate it is difficult to cover the same ground twice!

See the articles index for more recent articles on reviewing and facilitation.

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My research interests include:

  • What's missing from learning cycles?
  • Do you really know what learners actually experience?
  • Can you design 'experiences', or can you only design 'activities'?
  • Does your reviewing style suit all learning styles?
  • Is there a perfect environment for learning and development?
  • What theories, beliefs and rationales justify and shape reviewing?
  • The evaluation of adventure-based learning - to what extent is adventure measurable?
  • The roots and possibiliites of success-focused reviewing and its contribution to learning organisations and cultures.
For some background to this list see 'Reflections' above.
You will find some answers to most questions throughout this site. Follow your unguided curiosity! If you would appreciate more guidance, get in touch (see below).

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Interested in outdoor research?
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