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Where Does Learning Happen?

When I facilitate a train-the-trainer event, I ask my participants where learning happens. I’ll get answers such as “in the classroom” or “at the water cooler” or “everywhere.” Sometimes a participant will say: “where there is discomfort.”

When this meme recently made the rounds on LinkedIn, it got me thinking a lot about my training design.

Where Learning Happens

It’s an inspirational image. And it doesn’t tell the whole story. I recently came across this image as well:

Where Learning Happens (2)

I absolutely agree that it’s essential to move learners beyond their comfort zone in order to discover new possibilities, new perspectives and new ways of doing things. However, there can be a fine line between the spot where learning happens and the “panic zone” which can lead to a horrible learning experience.

Effectively moving learners out of their comfort zone while ensuring a positive learning experience requires the following considerations:

  1. Safety and comfort are not the same thing. Safety in a training environment is a must-have. If a learner feels threatened or offended or at risk of humiliation, then her ability to learn will take a back seat to her desire to simply survive the experience. Comfort, on the other hand, is not necessary at all. I know that even I like to be able to sit in a training and listen and not be asked to join in an activity. And while that makes my life easier, I remember very little from those types of training sessions. The fact is that finding ways to engage attendees to participant and be involved in the learning is crucial, and it usually means an element of discomfort.
  2. Choice is essential. Every learner is different and each person will grapple with discomfort in different ways. Some participants love the limelight and relish the opportunity to speak in front of the large group. Others need small group conversations in order to be able to engage and discuss ideas and concepts. An opportunity for learners to choose when, where and how to participate will reduce the amount of “panic” among participants.
  3. So is de-briefing. When learners are pushed outside their comfort zone, mistakes are often made. Or sometimes things just don’t feel right when they’re tried for the first time. This is all ok, and it’s part of the learning experience. But unless the participants have an opportunity to process and think through why a mistake was made or why something didn’t feel right, then it’s just an ikcy experience.

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