by Chuck Ocheltree | January 25, 2017
Experiential learning presents a unique growth opportunity for participants, and a tool that planners can use to achieve a specific outcome. Differentiated from the more traditional teambuilding, experiential learning uses a blended approach to learning, integrating activities, exercises, adventure elements, quiet time, and ongoing post-event coaching to create powerful programs of leadership development, strategic planning, mentoring and coaching, communication, feedback and observation, and enhancement of behavior styles.
 
Here are six trends we at the National Conference Center, for which I am chief marketing officer, have observed in experiential learning:
 
1. Barrier-Free Learning
Take away the white classroom tables. Barrier-free learning is hands-on training in a lab-like setting, versus the traditional meeting room or classroom. For example, The National has created an entire workroom and lab for simulation or scenario training for a top major client to deliver new skills, taking away the barrier of the "white table" with attendees learning in a lab or open space area.
 
2. Learning by Choice
Mixing classroom training with outdoor activities. The Challenge Course at The National has high and low rope elements, and increasingly, facilitators are using a Challenge-By-Choice approach. Learning programs are designed to meet the variety of goals unique to each client, whether conferees make use of the elements of the high or low course -- or none at all. There is a role for everyone in the training, even if individuals choose not to physically participate.

3. Learning by Shared Experiences
Creating "shared experiences," such as a building project, where everyone is involved collectively -- from C-level executives to assistant managers -- taking each participant out of their comfort zone and into a creative problem-solving task to construct the future.

4. Learning by Silence
Groups are increasingly exploring the power of silence in a high-speed, technically dependent world. Facilitators are allowing more time for conferees' solo quests, reflection, meditation time, and movements like yoga that can provide powerful reconnection with the natural world, and the true inner self, opening new channels of connection and learning.
 
5. Learning by Doing
Learners participate in carefully chosen experiences that are supported by reflection, critical analysis and synthesis. It engages the learners to be in direct experience, to be doing something that connects to an area they hope to improve or develop. The learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative, and constructing meaning.
 
6. Learning Through Application
Historically, debriefing was a structured process facilitated by a skilled professional throughout the process and at the conclusion of a program. This still occurs, but today a post-program debriefing application assists participants over time with how learning translates back at the office. There are a number of strategies that can be arranged to help facilitate this continued learning process. These include self-directed debrief meetings, professional coaching sessions by phone or in person, or follow-up, mini sessions at the one-, two-, or three-month intervals. These sessions can be highly productive and fun, assisting the participants in real time learning application issues. They can be on the participants' work site or scheduled as an offsite.
 
The National Conference Center installed a state-of-the-art challenge course last year to provide additional training and learning opportunities for their clients. The National Challenge Course consists of five low elements plus many portable options, which are weight bearing problem solving activities that can accommodate 15 or more people at any one time. Also six high elements can be done with two or more solo, or with many other climbers simultaneously. All high elements are dynamic relays where participants hold the rope for one another.
  
Chuck Ocheltree is chief marketing officer of the National Conference Center. Located in Northern Virginia 12 miles from Dulles International Airport and 35 miles from Washington, D.C., The National Conference Center is one of the largest and most comprehensive conference centers in the nation. With 917 guest rooms and over 265,000 square feet of meeting and group function space, including the West Belmont Place catering complex with its 16,552-square-foot ballroom, The National has become the nation's headquarters for productive meetings and West Belmont Place the hub for Loudoun County and surrounding area social functions. For more information on the Six Trends in Experiential Learning for 2017, contact Denise Benoit at (703) 919-1589. For information on meetings at The National Conference Center, call Sales at (800) 640-2684