What is experience anyway?

In preparing this blog for publication, I started searching for graphics to use as part of the theme and in the directory.  As always when on a hunt for graphics, I start with a search of concepts.  These results often inspire me for targeted searches.

The results returned for experience were very illuminating.  Those with people were frequently doctors. The correlation is clear. After all, there are very few career paths which require such experiential learning: science and medical studies are full of labs, internships follow, then a residency, and perhaps even fellowships.

It was the results without people that were so surprising.  Lots of photos of definitions and the words were rather disappointing: learning, education, “the five Ws,” and (gasp) knowledge.  Lots of knowledge.

The same group of photographers that so easily made the association of experience to medical training, missed the boat when it came to concrete depictions of the same concept.  Perhaps it was their subconscious that jumped to a highly immersive environment, where time is a critical component to gaining experience.

Before I sound too judgmental, let me assure you that I quickly realized… isn’t that what we all tend to do?

Through the course of a training project, it’s so easy for the process to devolve to what learners need to know.  It’s concrete. It’s easily assessed by a multiple choice question. It’s easy to get data dumps from subject matter experts. But that’s not why they pay us the “big bucks,” folks.

We should be building training that transforms behavior. That pushes passed what learners know and moves into what they can do.  The only way to do that is by developing programs that let give them opportunities interact with content the same way they do on their jobs, such as making decisions that require trade-offs, dealing with last minute changes, and never having enough time to get things just-so.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this since attending DevLearn.  Edward Allen in his session on analysis said, “never in my life has anyone ever asked me a multiple choice question.” The question that has been nagging me ever since: then why do so many of us continue build our training around the ultimate goal of an end-of-course test?

We’re like those photographers, who’ve left me without inspiration.  We aren’t in touch with what we know subconsciously and it’s easier to get our hands on knowledge.


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