Experimenting with Experiential Learning – Episode 13

In this episode, Beth and facilitator Romy Alexandra explore the topic of experiential learning. But they don’t just talk about experiential learning, they actually do it! Romy and Beth each facilitate the other through several sense-based activities, then reflect on the experience. No matter where you are when you listen to this episode, you’re invited to fully engage in this “experiment” in experiential learning.

Special notes:

  • Beth realized as she was playing a song during recording that she would break copyright if she aired the episode that way. So you’ll hear a substitute song and an explanatory voiceover from Beth in that section. If you would like to hear the actual song Beth played for Romy, listen to Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard via the link below.
  • If you would like to share back with Romy and Beth a reflection or next step after your engagement with this episode, you are invited to make a comment on this post below.

Engage with Romy Alexandra

Other Links from the Episode

Connect with the Facilitating on Purpose Podcast

Connect with Beth Cougler Blom

Podcast cover art by Emily Johnston of Artio Design Co.
Podcast production services by Mary Chan of Organized Sound Productions

Show Transcript

[Upbeat music playing]

[Show intro]
Beth
Welcome, to Facilitating on Purpose, where we explore ideas together about designing and facilitating learning. Join me to get inspired on your journey to becoming and being a great facilitator wherever you work. I’m your host, Beth Cougler Blom.

[Episode intro]
Beth
Hello, welcome. Thank you so much for choosing to listen to this episode today. This is going to be kind of a different one, actually, because my guest – when I was preparing to interview them for the episode – they actually encouraged me to be a bit more creative, just because of the particular topic of this episode, which is about experiential learning. So, Romy Alexandra is my guest on this episode. She is a learning experience designer, she’s a facilitator, she’s an experiential learning trainer, and she works with organizations and individuals around the globe to help them design and facilitate impactful learning experiences. Part of her big focus in her work with her groups is to help people integrate experiential learning and psychological safety into all the things they do, whether it’s online, in person, hybrid or whatever. Romy and I aren’t actually just going to talk about experiential learning in this episode, we are going to do it. And we’re going to use some facilitation skills here. So you’ll hear us explain exactly what we’re going to do as the episode gets started, but just know you’re in for a little bit of a different experience and I hope it will be a more engaging experience for you as a podcast listener. So let us know. Make sure you listen to the things I’m going to say at the end of the episode, right after Romy and I say goodbye, because we have an invitation for you to do something after the episode finishes, and I hope you take us up on that offer. Enjoy the show.

Beth
All right, welcome, Romy. It’s so great to see you again and I’m really excited about what we’re going to do in our podcast episode today.

Romy
Same for me. Thanks so much, Beth, for having me on your podcast, it’s gonna be a fun experience for sure.

Beth
I think so. And I’ve been thinking about this one, and I’m almost, you know, I’m wondering how it’s gonna go. I think we’re both wondering how it’s gonna go. Because we’re going to do something a little bit different in this episode, aren’t we?

Romy
Oh, yes. So this is, I think, really the fun of bringing our minds together and seeing how can we even not just talk about experiential learning today, but actually make our podcast episode an experience of itself?

Beth
Exactly. So we’re gonna come back to that and talk about it in a little bit and kind of tell everybody what exactly we’re going to do. But just know for all of you listening out there that we’re going to try some new stuff and but first of all, I want to ask Romy a few questions so that you get to know her a little bit better. So Romy, I know we’re a bit new to each other, we’ve met kind of in various sort of social media and online ways before a couple of times. And I really got the sense when I was, you know, watching what you were doing over the Internet, so to speak, that you are an expert in experiential learning. Can you tell us just a little bit about what you do and why and how experiential learning became something that you’re really interested in and really have expertise in?

Romy
I’ve now been in this learning and development, training, facilitation, learning experience design, whatever you call it, this field, for the past, yeah, now more than 11-12 years. And I actually started very early on in my career designing and delivering trainings on human rights issues. And it became very clear to me early on, if we’re going to talk about life saving information, we need to make sure that the information really gets to people in a way that it clicks into their memory, that they remember this life saving information. And not just that it’s kind of presented, lecture style, in one ear and out the other. And that was really how I got fascinated by the concept of experiential learning. I think it’s a term we often use. It’s now many people say, Oh, we’d love everything to be experiential, which many people think it’s just engagement, interaction, which is a key component. But it’s so much more. There’s a whole theory behind experiential learning that I’ve just really dove into over the past decade and made the foundation of all the work that I do, no matter what topic I’m training on.

Beth
I think you’re gonna really help me expand my knowledge of experiential learning, because I’m probably one of those people that I’m sort of using it broadly. But for you, you’re probably going to help us realize that there is this sort of structure and framework behind it, and kind of the intentions probably behind it, too, from the, from the theory and from the research. So I’m looking forward to learning from you today. Tell me more. So what is experiential learning? And maybe what is it not as well?

Romy
So this really depends on I think, where you are. I mean our cultural background can have such a big influence in how we define experiential learning. Particularly for the United States and North America, for so many years experiential learning became synonymous with adventure-based learning, basically learning outside of the classroom or a training room. And luckily, I’ve spent most of my life now far outside of the United States. Even though I’m from New York I’ve lived in many different places. I’ve seen for other people it’s a very different connotation. And in other cultures experiential learning is, yeah, just a way to learn, learn through challenge or practice-based learning or using practicums and application, which, again, is another key component of experiential learning, but is not everything inside of it.

So when I really talk about experiential learning theory, I refer to David Kolb. He’s actually the creator and founder of this theory for now more than 50 years ago. And he defines experiential learning as the process wherein knowledge really results from the combination of grasping and taking in experiences, but also transforming it. So it’s not enough to just have an experience, it’s not enough to just have people do something or try something out, they really need to go through this full process. So they have experience, they have a reflection piece, they’re able to see what happened, what occurred, what came up and really reflect and observe on that experience. And then we go into that thinking phase, which is really drawing some concrete conclusions. Really making sure that we even can take what happens here, maybe in this training setting – because again, it can happen in a room – and kind of zooming out and saying how can we also draw conclusions of how what experience I just had here in this room relates to the experiences I’m having maybe everyday in the workplace or my environment or outside this training room? And that’s really that thinking phase. And last but not least, is this acting phase, which is so what? What can I do with this? I’ve had this experience, I’ve reflected on it. I’ve been able to draw some conclusions. But now how can I use this information moving forward? And that’s the acting phase is that final phase. Really thinking about practice, application moving forward.

And if you think about it, once you actually go through that four point cycle of experiential learning, combining that grasping in of new experiences and knowledge, but also transforming it through reflection and acting, you also take people on more spirals of learning, because then they say, Okay, I’ve made an action plan, what I’m going to do next, that when they actually put that into practice, that becomes a new experience, which they can then reflect on, and draw more conclusions on and put new things into practice. So we’re actually always constantly going through spirals of learning every day, it follows the natural patterns in our brain. It’s something so simple. As long as you have these four components, that’s really the foundation. There’s many other layers. But we don’t always think about experiential learning in this complex, or combination, I should say, of these four modes of the cycle. I tried to give you a crash course. Tell me if you have some follow up questions, happy to make it more clear for you.

Beth
I love the crash course and sometimes we need the crash course, right, because there’s just thousands of topics we can dig into in this field and sometimes we need those, you know, tiny things, or those four things to grab on to and really propel us forward. As you were talking about what it is, it makes me think that, you know, this could be some of the answer to that problem that people have about, you know, they have a course or a workshop or whatever and, you know, three months later, or four months later, you know, a year later, those learners they really haven’t learned, they have not implemented anything from the workshop. It goes and sits on the proverbial shelf and kind of almost disappears off the shelf, right, that learning. And so, is this what you’re saying, that if they follow these four components of the experiential learning process or cycle, they’re going to actually help retention and that it’s going to solve, you know, probably in part or maybe in whole that problem. Is that fair to say?

Romy
Oh, absolutely. There’s tons of research out there that shows the evidence behind what happens if you teach the exact same subject using just like you mentioned, maybe focusing in that knowledge, thinking space of we’re going to just give lectures, here are insights, take them, take them, take them, or really creating a holistic, experiential learning cycle journey that really taps into all four modes. The results show it taps into long term memory retention, we remember more, we have a more integrated and holistic approach that caters to all different learning preferences. We tap into more self awareness as learners and help people really take ownership over their learning process. The impact is just it’s yeah, tenfold. And so it’s not just more fun, which many people think oh, experiential is fun, fun, fun. It’s not just about fun. You can have fun through the experiences, but it really actually creates the most transformation and impact in the long run.

Beth
And that’s really what we’re trying to do in the long run, isn’t it? You know, we want to have fun, we want to have engaging, inclusive experiences, but we’re really, you know, here in the business for that change, that change of behaviour or change of knowledge or whatever. Yeah. I think you and I kind of met too through the Liberating Structures community. I feel like we maybe crossed paths, you know, first of all, in one of those user groups, maybe Washington DC Liberating Structures User Group or something, but I’m going to [laughs] ask a leading question is, is that one of the reasons why you have been using and engaging with Liberating Structures? Because it’s making me think of, you know, the structure that’s What, So What, Now What? and structures like that kind of lead us in that direction, say at the end of a training or whatever to go, Okay, well, we’ve had this, you know, great learning experience. Hopefully it was engaging and interactive, but what are we going to…how are we going to reflect on that? And what are we going to do about that? Tell me how Liberating Structures might fit into this just briefly.

Romy
First of all, I have to say this very, I didn’t even realize it was a Liberating Structure. Now that you say it. But I’ve heard and referenced and myself use this what is it? What now? What so what?

Beth
What, So What, Now What? Yes, OK Now What? is that action piece you were talking about.

Romy
Exactly. And that is 100% based on experiential learning cycle, because you can have an experience, but you need to really debrief. And the beauty of the What, So what, Now what? – I want to make sure I don’t miss confuse those – the beauty of those is that it actually can take you you don’t just have to have the four pieces and they feel separate four pieces. A debrief, if the questions are structured properly like that can take you through the rest of the cycle, through the rest of the three modes. Now, back to the Liberating Structures piece. You know, Liberating Structures is a fabulous tool for experiences. And now even as you can see, through debrief processes as well. I think there’s so many tools out there and many people ask, can you give me an activity? Can you give me an energizer? Give me an icebreaker? Can you give me this? And I always say, there’s so many out there Liberating Structures. I love them. There’s so many I also use them quite a lot, both in my online and even in person work. I see a lot of those as opportunities for experiences. So there’s great ways to use Liberating Structures and say here’s an experience right.

And what really is an experience? Let’s talk about that for a moment. An experience is, again defined by David Kolb as something new that strikes the learner and really taps into their full senses and emotions. So we say it “strikes” because it’s not a conversation that they’ve been having every day. It’s something that Oh, like, that hit me in a new way, or whoa, that I haven’t done that before. It strikes you whether it’s in a more emotion, feeling way or striking you in a way of thinking more logically, analyzing something that you want to get to afterwards. But that experience, I think the core is that, you know, it’s something that you’re doing that brings up or evokes new emotions, or taps into new senses that you haven’t experienced and Liberating Structures creates a lot of great formats to do that. But again, none of these tools in isolation are enough by themselves. If they are properly and this is why, what you and I do, Beth, creating real learning journeys and really designing intentionally, that’s where you can take something like Liberating Structures, and then make sure you’re following through the rest of the cycle with these other debrief processes or other tools you use that take you full circle.

Beth
Exactly, yeah. So what do we do with that? And how do we…I always talk about intention, you know, it feels like it comes up all the time, because if we only sat back and took the time to be more intentional about that, we would realize we need to do more than just integrate that one or six or 20 activities in the session. We need to go beyond that, as you’re saying.

Romy
If there’s nothing else that you take from this is that, yes, thinking first about your intention, because sometimes people can become so overwhelmed by so many Liberating Structures. And that’s just one tool, there are so many different toolboxes out there. Many people say I don’t know which one, can you give me one? And I always say it goes back to what do you want to achieve? Sometimes you can have the exact same experience, exact same activity, but the way you tweak it, maybe the way you tweak the questions or the prompt or the framing will create a whole new experience. So it really depends on what are your overarching goals, your learning objectives, and then you use the experiences, these Liberating Structures, as a way to support and hold up your key goals and outcomes.

Beth
Absolutely, yeah, we’re definitely talking the same language. I always lead people back to that outcomes conversation [laughs], whether they want to have it with me or not, for sure. Now, one thing you mentioned in your kind of explanation about, you know, what is experiential learning is the you mentioned senses and emotions. And so tell us, lead us in the direction because we’re going to do something kind of interesting here so lead us in the direction about why we might want to think about evoking emotion, or enabling people to tap into their senses during learning experiences.

Romy
[Sighs] I mean, this is for me such an untapped in all learning formats. But it’s, I’m thinking right now, particularly in that online space, it’s such an untapped potential that we have. We too often think, oh, this was really experiential, really interactive, really engaging, because people were maybe putting things in the chat, or there were some questions and discussions. But we really, as you said, want to evoke these senses and emotions, because we learn with our full body. We are not just talking heads, we’re not floating heads. We don’t just have our brain here. I always go back to my favourite quote by Maya Angelou, right. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” And it is so true, because actually, the neuroscience of learning backs this up as well. If we want people to remember what they’ve learned in the long term, really tap into that long term memory retention, we have to involve the emotions. That’s really what helps trigger…actually, this might be a cool thing, let’s see. Listener, while you’re listening in, if you think back – and Beth, I encourage you to do the same – if you think back right now, one of your earliest memories of learning. It could be from grade school, if that feels way too far. It could be from high school, who knows even college. Like really think back to a pleasant, or even the first memory that you have with learning. Do you have something in mind Beth?

Beth
I think so.

Romy
Okay, yeah. Let’s see what comes up for you.

Beth
I went back to my Kindergarten classroom, and I just saw us all sitting in those little centres, you know, with those tiny desks, and they’re kind of in pods, you know, kind of facing each other. Yeah. And just a room full of activities to do.

Romy
A room full of activities. Interesting. Cool. So, as you would join thousands of people that…I actually worked with a neuroscientist who asked this question to thousands of people and he said, I’ve never had anyone remember the content that was taught. And that had nothing to do with what was the topic was. And sometimes if people do remember the content again, it’s always still connected to an emotion. For you might be oh there was I was in kindergarten, there’s so many things around I was getting who knows maybe excited I wanted to play and put all these things in practice. Somebody else I’ve told, wow, I had a terrible first memory where I was being scolded by the teacher. We remember based on our emotions, and that’s why the more, I would say the more pleasant emotions, also my background’s in emotional intelligence, there’s no such thing as “good” and “bad” emotions. But there’s pleasant and unpleasant emotions to experience. Either one, the pleasant or unpleasant, are going to really resonate in your learner’s memory. Of course, I hope we were trying to evoke more pleasant and unpleasant, but it really makes a difference. And I think that’s why we should just like kind of dive in today, and maybe tap in a bit more also to the senses, using our body, emotions, because that’s really how we’re going to hopefully remember the information you and I share on this podcast.

Beth
I think so. And just to add in, I think one of the reasons why my mind might have gone back to Kindergarten was that I really loved that teacher. You know, so maybe I had an emotion around just really connecting with her personally. Actually, weirdly, I still have the Valentine’s, you know, tiny little card that she gave me, you know back in Kindergarten. I still have it in my memory box. So there must have been something there about how you know, I really connected with her emotionally as a teacher. You know?

Romy
I am so happy you brought that up because this is again, what I say, you know, most people when they’re thinking about facilitation or training, it’s like, what do I need to teach people? Right? What do they need to learn? And we focus so much on the what. What is the content? What is the experience? What is it like, but we really forget the how. And that’s why I say experiential learning is all about the how, because as you just said, you could have the same topic be taught by totally different teachers, and it’s the way those teachers teach to them that really can make you fall in love with the subject or not. And that’s really why I think experiential learning is so important.

Beth
It’s making me think, too, I got to look at my bookshelf. Do you know Julie Dirksen’s book?

Romy
Yes. Design For How People Learn?

Beth
Yeah, you found it faster than I found on my bookshelf. Yeah, so Design For How People Learn. So she, you know, she has a section in there about emotion and how we do need to pull that into our learning experience. I think she’s, you know, the example of the rider and the elephant and so on, like, rider being our logical side, elephant being like the emotional side. So we need, we need both, don’t we? So that can be a resource to people. That’s a great book.

Romy
Yeah, it is a great book. I think it’s important to remember: one is that we can create collective experiences like you and I are about to do. But I also think it’s important we don’t forget that every single learner who walks into your session comes with a history of valuable life experience to share. And that is another key component when we think about experiential learning is how are we creating moments for collective generation, collective reflection, people bringing their insights. Because sometimes an experience doesn’t have to be this big, huge thing. I mean, it’s great if it is. But sometimes it can just be something that happened outside this room that you’re bringing in, and people remembering the experiences that they’ve already lived, and how they can talk more about that. And I think we also don’t do enough of that, in general in these learning environments.

Beth
I agree. And I think, you know, it’s something that if if only people realized that their learners, no matter who they are, or what age they are, or whatever, all the assumptions we can make about learners, that they come in with something to share. I mean, that’s, [sighs] that’s just one great, important thing to do, isn’t it? Yeah, thanks for helping us remember that.

So listener, when I first contacted Romy and asked her if she wanted to be on the podcast, in our we had a sort of a pre-discussion, a pre-meeting about it, and what we could do, and our ideas were just flying all over the place. [laughs] We had 50 different things of the things that we could do around experiential learning, because Romy you were really challenging me, you know in a good way, to say, how can we make this a more experiential experience than maybe a typical podcast is. And so, you know, I’ve only done a few episodes, I’m still new to this podcast game. And so you were the first one that said, hey, what if we did something a different way? And so of course, you know, because I like this kind of stuff too and I like to innovate and be creative. I said, Okay, you know, what would it look like? So we came to this a roundabout way, I suppose what we’re gonna do with with each other and with the listeners today, but tell us what we’re going to do and and why you think it might be a fun thing to do. And an impactful thing to do, I should say, as well. [laughs]

Romy
I’ve also never done it. It’s an experiment with experiential learning. Basically, what we want to do today is using this theme of the different senses that we have, and how are all the different senses can be very much connected with our emotions. We want to actually take turns facilitating each other, Beth and I will facilitate each other through some different mini, very small but mini experiences, tapping into all of the senses. And what we’re going to ask you to do is as you’re listening in, like do it with us, experience and experiment with us while we do this, because I think just through this process, we’re kind of co-creating an experience that then can help us better reflect and understand what actually is experiential learning. I often say to people and my clients, when they’re trying to ask me, I’m like, you know what, you really need to experience experiential learning to really understand it. So this is hopefully gonna give a little mini experience for anyone who’s never really been familiar with the topic. And hopefully you get more out of this podcast by experiencing it yourself.

Beth
I hope so. And we have not practiced this, we are really just doing this in the moment and seeing what happens, aren’t we? So it definitely is an experiment in experiential learning.

Romy
Exactly. And I think that’s the beauty. I think this is, you know, another thing, just as facilitators let’s try things out. And you know, we’ll reflect on it and gain insights moving forward. So let’s get it started.

I would like to start with this sense of seeing. And it might sound funny, because many of you are probably listening in on the podcast right now and can’t see anything. But I didn’t want to lose sight – sorry for the pun – of this sense, as well. So I’m going to give you the instructions, Beth, but again, whoever’s listening in please do the same as Beth. So just to get us started and to kind of ease into this sensory experiential journey, I’m going to ask you to first take a moment to just get grounded wherever you are. So if you’re in your room, maybe you want to put your feet on the floor, and just like, take a moment to just put ground yourself. If you’re walking, maybe you want to just take a moment to stop for a moment and take a deep breath in. And out. And I want you to find…look around your surroundings first of all, wherever you happen to be in the world. So Beth, please look around your room. And I want you to find even just one object, one thing, one item – who knows maybe you’re in nature – one element. And really take a moment to just hone in on it and really observe it. It may just seem like an object that you look at every day. But I want to ask you to really take a moment. Don’t touch it. Just look at it from all different angles, or get close and really take even just 10 seconds to fully take it in and look at it and embrace what are you seeing. So Beth, I’m going to ask you, can you tell me some things that you notice or see about that item without telling me what it might be?

Beth
So this item has a softness to it. I know if I touch it, it’s going to feel nice that way. It has…it’s got some precision pieces to it that I can see more clearly now that I’m looking at it. I’m not sure how much I can tell you, but it’s got stitches in it. [laughs] So I’m looking at each of the stitches and just noticing, you know, their uniformity or not. It’s kind of looking at me. [laughs] So I’m noticing that it’s got a couple of eyes. And it’s also evoking just a happiness in me because it was made for me by someone in my family that I love very much. And it’s just a special item because this person created it for me.

Romy
Oh, beautiful. Okay, I’m gonna take a random guess. I have no idea if this is right. Is your item some kind of teddy bear or plush toy with some like hand stitching in it?

Beth
Yeah, it’s a little felted llama that my daughter made for me [laughs] in school, and it’s about maybe three inches high. And so it’s got some stuffing in it.

Romy
Amazing. Okay, thank you so much. So actually, I just want to tell you that even this practice, we did it super quick, but I actually was…this is a mindfulness practice. You can take any ordinary item and spend 15 minutes just like really honing in on it and looking at things. Maybe you notice a crack that you didn’t realize before and tapping into the senses in that way. Before I ask, I’m not going to ask you to debrief or reflect on this because we’re going to go through all the different senses and we’ll have time to debrief after, so Beth, are you ready to take another journey into our sense of touch?

Beth
I’m ready.

Romy
Okay. So I’m going to ask you, I could ask you to grab this beautiful little llama and feel it but I’m going to ask you to do something else instead. Actually, I don’t know how comfortable you are because you are set up in your podcast zone. So if you don’t want to stand, it’s okay. Or you already standing?

Beth
I’m standing. I’ve got a standing desk.

Romy.
Ah, even better! You’re already set up, perfect. Okay, so I’m going to ask you to actually tap into the power of touch but instead of we often touch items and think about feeling, there’s so much beautiful connection with our sense of touch and also tapping into our own emotions. A lot of researchers say even that if we can connect a physical movement, a physical stance, a “touch point”, to actually connect us to an emotion it actually helps our brains feel that emotion even more. So I’m going to ask you to take a moment and think about maybe an emotion that you would really love to feel right now, in this moment. Any emotion that comes to mind. Take a moment.

Beth
Okay, I’ve got one.

Romy
Do you have one?

Beth
Okay, should I tell you what it is, or just hold it in my mind?

Romy
Mm, you can hold it for right now.

Beth
Okay.

Romy
But I’m very curious. [Both laugh]. And now I’m going to ask you to create some kind of movement, or it can be a stance. For example, like, if I’m connecting or thinking about self compassion, I might, you know, put my fist on my heart and maybe kind of take my other hand and kind of gently caress it, and when I feel like I need some self compassion, I kind of [sighs] just have this moment to like, reconnect with myself in that way. So find a really authentic movement that you can actually touch or feel in a way that can evoke that emotion for you.

Beth
Hmm, let me think about that. I’m just gonna like…OK I think I have, I think I have it. So I’m, I’m gonna have to describe it, aren’t I? So I’m kind of taking my one hand, I’m grasping my one hand with the other. So I’ve got my thumb on my palm and just wrapping my four fingers around the back and just kind of like, I don’t know, massaging my palm a little bit with with my thumb of my right hand. On my left hand.

Romy
Is your emotion calm?

Beth
Yes, it was. Oh, you’re good! [Both laugh]

Romy
Amazing. I had no idea. This is just in general, like a great practice to use. Even if you’re feeling for example, for facilitation, you’re feeling nervous, and you say, I want to feel more confident right before I train, right? Or I want to feel calm. You can do the same thing that you did. You want to feel confident. I have like my own power pose, I put my hands on my hips, kind of stand like Superwoman, and bust out like my chest to like, puff out my chest and be like, yes, okay, I am ready to take on this training. And that really helps me curb my nerves I might feel. [laughs]

Beth
I love that. I love that. I do that with breath, too, you know, and just think more about my breath as I get ready. And you know, think about how I want to be in an experience. Yeah, but I love the pieces about touch and stance and so on.

Romy
Totally. Thank you for sharing that. Breath is another beautiful way that is kind of an intangible, a really beautiful touch point for ourselves, it’s like [sighs] taking those deep breaths.

Beth
Definitely.

Romy
Okay, I am going to ask, again, this is an experiment. Now we’re going to take another journey into our sense of smell. And I am going to ask you to actually think of a memory that you have. It could be from way early on, or even just a recent memory, who knows. And really think about a smell that you can remember for that memory. So think about pleasant memories, right? So yes, that’s important. So think of some kind of pleasant memory that you have when it comes to sense of smell. Maybe there’s a…something that reminds you of a really pleasant experience or a smell that even every day when you smell it, you’re like, oh, this makes me feel in this pleasant way. Who knows? Does something come to your mind Beth?

Beth
Yes, I’ve got something.

Romy
Ooh, tell us tell us about it. Can you describe the smell and maybe the memory?

Beth
Yeah, I don’t know. I mean, it’s smell if a smell can smell homey, or comforting or something like that, I think this one’s got it. It’s the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven. So I don’t know, you might have shared the same thing. I mean, in North America, we have often a turkey at Thanksgiving or Christmas. And so I was taken to that experience of maybe my mom cooking a turkey for me or my grandmother, going to my grandmother’s house, where we would all gather. And you know you walk in a house and you can smell a turkey roasting in the oven. It’s quite pervasive. [laughs] And over the hours that it cooks, it just kind of envelops everyone in this lovely scent and experience in a way of of knowing that a good meal is coming and and maybe it evokes time together with family. You know, for me anyway, right it evokes time together with family and, and so on.

Romy
I love that, you know, as you’re talking for me, it’s the rosemary because my mother always used to dress the turkey with rosemary. And every time I have this whiff of rosemary, I also say, ah, this tastes like home or this smells like home. It smells like comfort, it smells like family and love and connection. And yeah, it’s amazing actually, our smell is the most strongly connected with our memory and emotion. So it’s often something that we don’t think about in trainings and facilitation. And so I’m now trying to think how can we bring more smells, even aromas in the room so that the next time your participants smell that, I don’t know, vanilla candle in another way. They’re like, oh, yeah, remember that great training on psychological safety? [Both laugh]

Beth
Yeah that vanilla candle will take you back. Yeah, oh it’s such an interesting one. Because of course, you’re right, as soon as we smell something particular, it often does take us back to an experience does it? So how can we do that intentionally with our groups? Interesting to ponder. [Romy  laughs]

Romy
Yeah. Well, thank you for letting me lead you through a few of these. I know you also have some for me. So I’m ready to go into participant mode and have you take the facilitator wheel here.

Beth
Okay. Well, my first one for you is around silence. So I’m going to ask you and, listener, you can of course do this as well, because we’re going to have silence for 30 seconds. So if you’re driving your car, [laughs] or if you’re somewhere, if you’re taking a walk, just for be prepared that this is this podcast episode is gonna go dark for 30 seconds while we all do this activity. So I would like you to sit in silence for 30 seconds and I’m going to give you a topic to sort of free think about and so there’s no wrong answer here. Wherever your brain goes for this thing I’m going to invite you to consider for 30 seconds, that’s where it needs to go for you. So I’m gonna get my timer ready here. I think it’s ready. So I’d like you, Romy, to think about strawberries for the next 30 seconds.

Romy
[laughs] OK.

Beth
Here we go. Starting now. [There is a 30 second pause.] Okay, that’s your 30 seconds. Tell me, what came up for you about strawberries?

Romy
Oh my gosh. Well, first we were just talking about smell and now you mention strawberries, so I’m feeling actually in my cheeks I’m salivating, just thinking like, Oh a delicious strawberry to bite into and how delicious that would taste. My mind went into all different associations with strawberries. I’m currently living in Germany in a region that’s actually famous for strawberries. And so thinking of, we have these cute little strawberry huts on the side of the road when they’re in season and how much I’d love to go and pick the really fresh red ones. I thought about…I don’t know, it took me to a crazy memory of childhood there used to be these like Strawberry Shortcake dolls or something. I don’t even think I had one but, I don’t know, I remember this like plush toy that looks kind of like she was dressed in strawberry cake. Then I started thinking about strawberry cake. I mean, you got me hungry here. [They both laugh]

Beth
I hope it’s not you know somewhere where you need food and you’re but you’re gonna have like close to dinnertime, right? You’re gonna be really ready for dinner. Oh that’s neat to hear all the different meandering paths that your brain went in, even in just that short period of time.

Romy
Yeah. What about you? Did anything come up in your mind or thinking about strawberries?

Beth
Well, like you I mean, I grew up in real strawberry country. And so just the taste of a, I say real strawberry that was kind of grown in a real field [laughs] that you know, that didn’t get kind of finished its life in under, you know, maybe greenhouses or so on. Like there’s a difference in strawberry tastes between strawberries and where they come from isn’t there? So I’m just picturing a juicy, wonderful tasting strawberry that you can get from a farm and it’s local and it’s whatever so yeah, it’s quite a lovely experience.

So we’re going to keep in the in the sort of “hear” area here and I’m going to play a short clip of music for you. And as you listen to the music, just you know, let your mind go in the direction it needs to go. You know, what this music clip is bringing up for you. [Music starts to play]

Hey folks, it’s Beth. Sorry to break in like this but I need to tell you something about this song. Unfortunately, as soon as I started playing this song for Romy as we were recording, I realized I was going to break copyright if I put that song on the podcast. I can’t do that, that is not going to happen! So, what we’ve done is inserted a different song here and we’re going to play that for 30 seconds for you while you go and listen to the actual song I played for Romy, if you’d like to do that. So now is a good time to search out Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard. It’s from the Once soundtrack. That’s a musical. And it’s in the show notes if you want a link to the location of it on Spotify. And then just know that Romy and I were actually listening to Falling Slowly and that’s what she’s responding to when you hear her come back on. Thanks so much for understanding. [Music continues to play for approximately 30 seconds more.]

OK that was 30 seconds. Tell me what you were feeling when you were listening to that clip.

Romy
Oh wow, I was feeling really warm. I had a lot of like warm it’s just it’s just a beautiful song. It makes me feel feelings of love or makes me think about feelings of love and connection. When I was listening to it, I felt warm. I felt comforted. I felt calm. It’s a beautiful song. I’m happy you chose that one, what a nice one to pick.

Beth
I really do love that song. Okay, I have one more for you. And I did already ask you in the silence activity to do something about taste, but this one again is about taste. So let’s go to that sense. I’d like you to think of something that you are going to imagine that you’re tasting. Listener, again you can follow along with Romy as she does this. Romy, pick some sort of food in your mind and think of yourself tasting it. And then describe that experience to me without actually telling me what the thing is, and I’ll try to see if I can guess. [laughs]

Romy
Hmm. Okay. Again, I’m feeling myself salivating just thinking about it. I’m a huge foodie if you can’t already tell. [laughs] Okay, so when I think about, this is a very ridiculous thing to think about. It’s maybe it’s too hard, it was the first thing came to my mind. But if you don’t get it, don’t worry. When I think about when you first eat this food, it almost has, almost a unpleasant texture, because how do I describe it? Sometimes it makes, it sticks to the roof of your mouth sometimes. It’s a salty flavour that you instantly get straight from the get go. Depending on what kind it is. It’s can be really melt in your mouth sometimes. Sometimes, though, it can be harder and chewy. Again, it depends on the quality. I picked a terrible one because this is so cultural, and you probably won’t get it [laughs] but take a guess and maybe it connects with something that you can think of that you eat regularly.

Beth
Okay, the salty piece threw me off but my first thing was peanut butter. Is it peanut butter?

Romy
Oh that could be great. That would totally work…

Beth
Sticks to your mouth?

Romy
The first thing that came to mind is because I used to live in Spain, I’m obsessed with jamon from Spain, and it’s like, I’m thinking of that texture. Like, sometimes the fat can, like, cultivate that weird kind of sticky feeling at the beginning. But then it like gets really smooth and solid and delicious. And it’s one of my favourite foods that I’m missing a lot in Germany right now. [laughs]

Beth
Oh wow, I’ve never even heard of that food. Jamon? [they both laugh] I don’t even know what that is!

Romy
It’s a cured meat. It’s like you usually would see it on charcuterie boards and kind of things. Yeah. But if you haven’t, I’m gonna send you some and if you want, come to Spain and eat the real thing.

Beth
Oh I would love to go back to Spain. So this experiential learning became like a cultural experience [laughs] just now as well. I love that! Oh, thanks, Romy. Okay, well, we had what six different things that we did there? So yeah, that was fantastic. Anything coming up for you about that experience of either facilitating me through that, or just, you know, being facilitated lightly [laughs] in the ones that I did for you?

Romy
Yes. So many things came up. And I think I just was started like interjecting or agreeing, because I just realized, as you said, and you just said it beautifully right now that one little thing like this, think about a food, can lead to a whole conversation. You know, you and I could have sat down and talked about all the foods I love from Spain, or how the cultural differences…all of these things. You just demonstrated beautifully the power of experiential learning. By tapping into our senses, tapping into these experiences, it opens up a whole new avenues for conversations versus if I just said, Hey, what’s your favorite food? Like, tell me about your favorite food? [Beth: Yeah] It’s a very different kind of experience.

I think from the participant, you know, I’m always wearing two hats, right? So from the participant’s hat, I’m like, ah, I really appreciated the way you facilitated me through these experiences, the warmth, I keep…warmth seems to be the theme of this podcast episode for me today. But like, yeah, the warmth I could feel. And it’s, again, reminds me of why multi sensory experiences are so important, especially in the online space, because we’re really not able to physically touch different things in the room, or we’re not able to smell whatever is smelling, but we could still find ways that we are bringing and evoking these different senses, even in this digital format. And I think it’s so powerful. As a trainer, I’m just tapping into, I mean, so many things and connections from the way you ask questions, the way you really help people, you know, create these experiences. I think for me, the beauty of experiential learning, again, goes back to what we were saying before that everyone, right, anyone who’s listening on this podcast episode right now, as well as myself, we all could do these exact experiences but we would all take something totally different away. And that’s, again, the beauty of why do we do what we do? Because you say something totally different for the strawberry activity versus myself versus what a listener would say because we all have valuable life experience and diverse and beautiful different life experiences would come into it. And creating more spaces for those discussions I just think are really powerful.

Beth
Super powerful. And you know, from what you said before, that we have to recognize and plan for, and expect that people come into experiences with past experience and knowledge. And we all have senses. I mean, we’ve all tasted something, we’ve all touched something, you know, we’ve all maybe tried to touch our own self to comfort ourself. And these are common human experiences but they can lead us in different directions. And then in deeper directions for connection and so on. But it’s, and it can be done so quickly, can’t it? Just in two minutes or three minutes and how do we bring people closer together through those experiences? It’s very doable for people to insert these things into their facilitated events, isn’t it?

Romy
Thank you for bringing that up. Right? These were just super small mini things we created in this format. And you’re right, like many people think oh an experience has to be this super big gamified simulation. Who knows? And yeah, that’s great. But you can just take something so simple. But the more you again, tap into those emotions or senses, I’m now also reflecting on myself as a facilitator. I’m always saying, like, how can I incorporate more of these. We do a lot of seeing, we do a lot of hearing. I appreciated your focus and attention, not just on the music, but the silence before because that beautiful contrast between just like taking a moment for silence. It’s unheard of in a podcast, usually, that’s like faux pas [Beth laughs], you don’t want silence. And that silence is so important. Again, in facilitation, you need people to process and reflect on what they’ve just experienced. And the contrast when you hear the music or you hear, you know, lots of conversations and discussions happening, can really change and make this nice, more dynamic learning journey that you have.

Beth
Absolutely. So I think you’re really helping us broaden our thinking around what experiences can and should look like with our groups, you know. And we talked about Liberating Structures and other activities too and you know, as you say, it doesn’t have to be that big thing that takes 45 minutes, or an hour and a half, or whatever. And it doesn’t have to be just a cognitive experience, which is all of our, you know, a lot of our defaults, too. So you said, you know, even more important online, and I absolutely agree and, you know, when everyone’s going back, and you know, some people have started and we’re kind of getting back to all these in person things as well, too, we have to remember to do more of that in person, as well, because maybe we haven’t, we didn’t do a great job of that either, you know, before the pandemic, so it’s both.

Romy
Totally, and I think it’s a great call to action for all of us to think about how can we create more diverse, multi sensory, emotional, evoking experiences, because we know that that’s what’s going to make the most impact. And just what you said, you know, thinking like, I’m not using enough of the sense of smell and taste in my trainings and that’s something I really want to dive into. I saw this beautiful example from a fellow facilitator of mine. He went to this retreat in Iceland, and they actually were able to take different foods and actually made kind of like colouring paints out of foods. And they made this huge mural with the foods and people were made it as a way to actually like process whatever the session was about. And then at the end they all ate it, you know, it was like mashed carrots, or mashed peas, or mashed this and so to add these different colours, and how they could paint with them. But then at the end they could also eat it and actually remember that. I’m thinking always like, there’s one time I went to the movie theatre, and there was someone had such strong perfume and cologne that I actually liked, which is good. Sometimes I hate it. And it’s, it’s a mess. Every time I smell it in the street, somebody else is wearing that perfume, I instantly remember that movie. And it’s like, you know, it’s the same thing. If you have that smells in there, you have those tastes in there, you will automatically go back to that, to that learning experience. And we need to do that more as facilitators.

Beth
We do and to take care with something that might seem kind of like an add on, like ordering catering for an experience. So you know, [breathes out audibly] how can we take care and intentionality with the food that we might be able to bring and the experience that we intentionally create for people to have food together or whatever, instead of just kind of sloughing it off, you know, and be like ah, I just ordered the sandwich platter, like we always do. [laughs] I don’t know. So it’s everything to do with a learning experience in all of our senses. And movement, I mean, we haven’t even gone there necessarily although you did mention people could be walking or so and you know, listening to the podcast today, but there’s so much richness there, isn’t there, for us to draw on?

Romy
Totally. What comes up for you, Beth, when you think about how both reflecting on this experience in the podcast and thinking about action steps forward and what you might do differently, either on podcast episodes or, who knows, in your own learning events and facilitation progress.

Beth
I think it was a year or two ago that, you know, particularly with a friend of mine that I teach with sometimes as well, facilitate with, Val, you know, we have run, co-facilitated sessions on, you know, igniting the senses in your, you know, learning experiences and so on. So I’ve already been, you know, going in that direction, but do I forget to do it in a lot of the things I’m still doing? Yes, of course. Right? And so, you know, it’s really making me think, how do I remember to give myself this recommendation when I’m in that design, you know, in the design mode for a learning experience? Because old habits die hard, don’t they? I mean, we go to the cognitive stuff. I mean, I feel like I’m pretty great [laughs] usually about, you know, designing the experiences. So the sense piece is, yes, how can I keep giving myself that opportunity and that thinking time to think about what that looks like? But then, taking us back to what you said earlier, even if I’m really good at putting in those activities, creating space for learners to share with me and with each other, and they’re moving around the room, and they’re doing all the things it’s the other, probably two pieces I think of that experiential learning cycle, to reflect and then to talk about actions like how do I continue to think about those last two pieces for them, those learners, to keep moving them forward? And I think that’s probably something I’ll always have to…you can’t see Romy, she’s nodding and nodding, right? [laughs] Like we always have to keep remembering it’s not just…it’s not just writing outcomes, and having content and activities. It’s that piece about where do we leave them? How can we get them to reflect? And then how can we get them to commit to actions on the experiences they take? And so I think you’ve really helped me think about that pattern and that broadening today.

Romy
Yeah, thanks, Beth. And just to like, hopefully take us full circle and exactly what what we started talking about was that we often are very much on those north and south part of the cycle of, we’re grasping experiences in the sense of we have an experience like this, or we’re grasping information in that thinking space, and we’re constantly taking it in. But as you just said, we need to bounce it out with the transforming the experience through the reflection and the action, as you said. So let’s all be more mindful about not just encouraging learners to grasp new experiences or new information, but to transform it in their own right. Have them process and reflect and have them think about what are three things you’re going to do moving forward, you know, or a challenge you want to set for yourself? Or create a…you know, right now sit down at the end of this podcast episode, and create a step by step plan of how you are actually going to integrate more senses and emotions in your next learning design. Who knows?

Beth
Thank you so much, Romy. I think we’re going to return to that piece, I’m going to let you have the final word because we’re going to do something a little bit different in this podcast episode today as well. But you know, just thank you for being here and pushing me in the direction to have an experience today and to learn from each other. I’ve really appreciated that. And I’ll turn it back to you to ask the listeners that one final, you’ve already kind of said it, but ask it again, leave them with that one final question about what you hope they will do.

Romy
Sure. Thank you, Beth, it was so lovely to have this experience with you all. And yes, again, one of the things I don’t always love on podcasts is we end with our conversation ends. But this is actually just the beginning of a new spiral of experiential learning. So I want to ask you, listener, thank you for listening until the end, first of all. Thanks for being here with us on this journey. And I will, I will ask you even if you want to have multiple questions that you want to reflect on, this can actually even take you further but I’ll end with the final one, as you said. So maybe one, take a moment after you listen to this podcast and think of one to maximum three words of how you are currently feeling after listening to this podcast episode. Then I want you to ask yourself, like what was, you know, we talked about many different things and we know the human brain is not like a sponge. We all take certain things based on our own background experience. So what is even one key takeaway that you have from this whole conversation that we had? One key takeaway or learning outcome from listening to this podcast? And the third question, which is as Beth said, that really final thing that we cannot forget is, what are you going to do moving forward? What is an action you personally can take to change or somehow impact the way you are either designing or facilitating learning events that tap into that learning outcome that you shared before? So what can you actually do and put into practice? Who knows? Starting today or tomorrow, instead of saying, oh, I’ll do it next month. Like really start to think how you can start to actually put something into practice. Three questions. We leave you with that and thank you again for being on this journey with us.

[Episode outro]
Beth
Oh, I had so much fun, both planning for and actually going through podcast episode, recording with Romy. And I wanted to say it was a facilitation because it felt like a facilitation when we were really doing the work of facilitating each other through these experiential learning activities. I will say that we chose to do sense-based activities. Of course there are just hundreds and thousands of opportunities to facilitate within the experiential learning realm, of course, but we just thought it might be fun to expand people’s perception around sense-based activities particularly, because of being in sort of the online mode or the audio mode, and to show actually that it is possible to engage the senses when we are not in person with each other. So hopefully you enjoyed participating in the episode in that way. The other thing I’ll say about this episode is what Romy said about why we might want to create experiential learning opportunities. She said the results show it taps into long-term memory retention, so that we remember more and we have a more integrated and holistic approach that caters to all different learning preferences. And right after that she said we tap into more self-awareness as learners, and as facilitators we really help people take ownership over their learning process. I mean those couple of phrases that she said there in the episode basically describe a whole lot of what we’re doing when we design and facilitate learning, the reasons why we do it. Now I did say that Romy and I have an invitation for you to continue engaging with us around the topic of this episode after you listen to it. Head over facilitatingonpurpose.com, find Episode 13 and drop us a reply. It’s in a blog post format. Tell us some of the reflections that you had listening and sort of participating in the episode and then tell us your next steps. What are you going to do about that? Complete that experiential learning cycle for yourself after listening to the episode. That’s part of our hope for you engaging right to the very end of the cycle. So don’t just listen to the episode and kind of go about your day. Go drop us a little message about what you’re thinking about now and what you’re going to do next. We would love to see that happen.

In the next episode, I speak with Chad Littlefield. Chad is the Co-Founder and Chief Experience Officer of We and Me. His work is all about helping people create connective experiences. And he has this concept that he talks a lot about called “connection before content”. So easy to remember. I asked Chad a lot about particularly starts and ends of our sessions, whether they are learning events or whether they’re meetings, and how do we make the start and the end particularly focused on connecting with the group? I mean we want to do it all the way between as well, but our conversation particularly focuses on the starts and the ends, and how do we do connection before content? Even if you think you’re doing great at this you can always use some more tips and strategies. Chad is going to help us get there, so join us next time. See you then.

[Show outro]
Beth
Thank you for listening to Facilitating on Purpose. If you were inspired by something in this episode, please share it with a friend or a colleague to help them expand their facilitation practice too. To find the show notes, give me feedback, or submit ideas for future episodes visit facilitatingonpurpose.com. Special thanks to Mary Chan at Organized Sound Productions for producing this episode. Happy facilitating!

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