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We cannot teach a person how to become something but we can only provide an experience in which they could learn to become something: there are no bottles to be filled with the content of the expert! Rather, the job of a trainer becomes designing, setting up, and executing exciting ways for people to experience the content first-hand, like in a scavenger hunt. If the trainees do not know about accounting, that is not a good reason for the trainer to assume he or she should spoon-feed accounting concepts to the trainees. Rather, he or she will be setting up an activity that would allow trainees to experience the content first-hand.

Do you think a trainer’s main objective is the process (find a way to have people learn something) or to be an expert in what people learn? The trainer needs to know about the content. But that’s not enough. For example, once I know what is the capital of Ukraine (the “what to teach,” the Content) I can do several things to have them learn it (the “how to tech it,” the Process):

  • I could tell them.
  • I could write it on a PowerPoint slide show and show them.
  • I could ask them to find the answer at page 45.
  • I could give each group an Atlas and a paper with three questions. Then, I would tell them that in 15 minutes we will hear about their discoveries.
  • I could invite a Ukrainian friend of mine to address the class and bring some typical Ukrainian dishes.

In which class would you prefer to be? These examples are meant to demonstrate how those different options have a very different degree of relevance, conviviality, and engagement for the trainees and—ultimately—different level of effectiveness in promoting learning. What we are talking about is the trainer’s creativity turning dry content into a meaningful and engaging group task. “It is not the subject but the imagination of teacher that has to be alive before the interest can be felt” (Barzun 1992).

Learning re-imagined means that the main focus of an instructor who wants to use experiential learning—besides putting people’s learning and unlearning needs first (through the design of instruction)—is building an environment where people feel safe to challenge and confront reality, and build personal meanings while participating in the social engagements of learning in their own context.

What does this all mean for you?