I am pleased to introduce this book on Learner Experience Facilitation by Mohammed Bahgat and his colleagues at SeGa group. We share a common passion for making learning more meaningful, valuable, and enjoyable. This book contains many important insights and ideas that are applicable to all kinds of training, development, and educational efforts.
The first is that learning is an holistic experience, like a customer’s experience with a product or company. Everything matters. The depth and durability of learning are influenced by the learner’s complete experience, not just the content and instructional method. Every interaction that the learner has—mental, physical and emotional—with the material, facilitator, peers, exercises, games, technology, and work environment enhances or detracts from learning, gets the learner closer to the goal, or impedes progress.
The key thing to remember, as the authors point out, is that the learner will have an experience. We all have experiences every day. The question is whether their learning experience will be planned and productive or unplanned and potentially destructive. As professional trainers and educators, we need to redefine our role as facilitators of optimal learner experiences, rather than as packagers, presenters, and conveyors of knowledge.
To make this mind shift, we need to conceive of learning as a journey, rather than as a one-time event or course. The analogy is apt. Journeys take you from where you are to somewhere new. Good learning does the same. Journeys have a destination and carry a sense of adventure; so should learning. On a journey, you meet new people, encounter new customs and ideas, help fellow travelers, and get help from guides and colleagues—just as you do in a well-facilitated learner experience. People look forward to taking physical journeys; they should look forward to learning journeys with equal enthusiasm.
Great journeys—whether physical or learning journeys—are never accomplished in a single sprint; it may take days or weeks to reach a worthy destination. A journey is accomplished in stages; you must reach specific mileposts and ports-of-call along the way. And, of course, every journey includes a variety of adventures, large and small.
SeGa group extends this analogy to learning journeys, for example, a leadership development curriculum. The overall goal, or destination, is fixed and remains a guiding star. The journey’s end is a performance objective—for example, to deliver great customer service, improve employee engagement, increase sales. The journey is broken into segments (courses, workshops, etc.), which SeGa calls “trips.” Each trip has specific objectives and milestones (learning objectives). Each trip brings you closer to the ultimate goal. Within each trip, are numerous “adventures” –exercises and other experiential learning opportunities—that prepare you for the next stage of the ascent to excellence.
There are two ways to embark on a great journey. One is to simply walk out the door, head in the general direction of the goal and hope for the best. That may be fine if you are a solo traveler, have unlimited time and money, and do not mind multiple misadventures along the way. But if you are in charge of a group, then your job is to be sure that everyone arrives at the destination after a safe, enjoyable, and appropriately adventure some journey. That takes planning. And in the case of a learning journey, a kind of planning that goes well beyond traditional instructional design.
The centerpiece of the book is SeGaTeams’ FIRST framework for facilitating learner experiences. The name is an acronym for its five key elements, and also a reminder that the learner must always come first. Decisions about journeys, trips, and adventures should always be made from the learner’s perspective: what will be most useful in helping him / her reach the destination?
The goal of the FIRST framework is to facilitate learning that is simultaneously both active and deep. Deep—as opposed to shallow—learning means going beyond simply knowing the “facts” to develop understanding of the concepts, insights into their appropriate application, and limitations of that knowledge. Deep knowledge cannot be passively transmitted to learners. They have to develop it for themselves by actively grappling with material, practicing its application, and reflecting on the results.
The FIRST model combines insights from a wide range of research, instructional design, and other learning models and frameworks, including our own work on the Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning. The FIRST model comprises five domains, each of which is supported by three key principles.
The “F” in the FIRST framework stands for focusing on the individual. It serves as a reminder that while we typically teach groups, each individual in that group is unique. He or she brings a unique background, life experiences, situation, and personal aspirations to the journey. As such, each will experience the same trip or adventure in a different way. Just as a tour group leader’s job is to make sure no one gets left behind and that everyone is getting to see and experience what they came for, the learning experience facilitator’s job is to be responsive to individual needs, ensure that no one is left behind, and everyone gets what they came for.
The “I” in the FIRST framework calls attention to the interactions that necessarily occur in a group. These are an integral and inseparable part of any learning journey. They can help make a trip pleasurable and insightful and greatly add to the learning that takes place, or they can be distracting and disruptive. The challenge in facilitating optimal learner experiences is to design learning journeys in ways that foster positive and productive interaction. And, at the same time, remember that each group is different. As such, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” Facilitators need to remain flexible and be willing to make adjustments on the fly.
The “R” in the FIRST framework emphasizes the need for review and reflection. Deep learning requires both action and reflection. Converting any experience into meaningful learning requires pausing to consider questions like: “What happened?” “What did I do well that I want to repeat?” What could I have done better?” “What do I want to differently next time?” “How can I apply this at work?” An important principle of the FIRST framework is that we facilitate more effective learning experiences when we consciously incorporate RAR (readiness-activity-review) cycles into the design. Too many learning programs rush headlong from one topic or exercise to another, without adequate time for reflection. Doing so sacrifices deep insight for shallow, and less valuable, rote memory.
The “S” in the FIRST framework calls out the importance of sequencing. You won’t get very far on a journey if the cart is put in front of the horse. Optimal sequencing requires thinking about what skills or knowledge must be mastered first, before the learner can tackle more challenging topics. So, for example, in learning a musical instrument, you must learn to reliably play a simple scale or melody before you can progress to more difficult one. Sequencing also involves pace. If your journey is up a mountain, you don’t head straight up and climb without stopping. You chose a route that includes both steep and flatter sections and you build in rest stops. We need to do the same for our learners: intentionally varying the pace and intensity. Appropriate sequencing also requires thinking about variety. A person could survive eating exactly the same thing three times a day for a year, but few people would care to do so. To maintain learner’s interest and active engagement, and to accommodate different learning preferences, the sequence needs to “change it up” frequently, intentionally utilizing a variety of learning adventures.
The “T” in the FIRST framework emphasizes the vital importance of transfer—that the value of learning is realized only when and if it is transferred to the individual’s life and work. The learning journey is not complete until new attitudes, skills, and knowledge been incorporated into the individual’s behavior. Thus, support for learning transfer must be consciously incorporated into the design of the learner experience and actively facilitated after each “trip.” Transfer is a vital part of the journey that cannot be left to chance.
In this time of an unprecedented and accelerating changes in our lives, work, and businesses, learning is more critical than ever. As professional educators and trainers, we have a responsibility to help people learn more effectively, efficiently, and well. To do so, we need to facilitate a complete and positive learner’s experience. SeGagroup’s FIRST framework provides important insights, principles, and practical advice for doing so—a travel guide, if you will, that will help you on your own learning journey and those on which you lead others.