3 Rules to Spark Learning by Ramsey Musallam

I regularly pop over to Ted.com to check out some videos, sometimes I go looking for something specific, and other times I just browse. I am never disappointed and they are usually short and sweet, so there’s no big commitment in terms of time but with so little time available to the speakers, I find that the talks usually offer opportunities to delve deeper and as this particular topic has been at the center of my professional activities ever since I started back in 1995 I figured I would go into a little more detail. I really liked this presentation by Ramsey Musallam mostly for its simplicity but I think it could be useful to elaborate on the concept from the perspective of Experiential Learning Design.

To summarise Ramsey’s talk, here are the three rules he proposes to spark learning:

Rule #1 – Curiosity comes first
Rule #2 – Embrace the mess (that comes with trial an error)
Rule #3 – Practice reflection

I totally agree with all three, without curiosity we cannot help our students to learn and it is often necessary to purposely create that curiosity in order to “set the stage” as we would say in sales lingo. If we don’t feel comfortable trying something new, even at the risk of getting it wrong, how can we possibly progress? And there is really little point in experiencing and experimenting if we don’t stop and look back at what happened.

Let’s go more granular and map out all the crucial steps for effective experiential learning design.


The 5 Phases of Experiential Learning

If we consider the five phases of experiential learning one could assume that we just jump right in.

Phase #1 – The Experience Phase (Do it).

That is not going to ensure that we arouse any curiosity though, so as learning designers we have to make sure that we prepare the learners for the experience that is coming in a way that will make it not only relevant to what they perceive as important, but in a way that will also make them want to know more, get closer and engage, now. I’ll give you a great example of how easy it can be to redirect attention in just a moment but for now, let’s just say that we cannot just expect learners to be curious, we need to instill curiosity intentionally.

As Ramsey proceeds directly to Rule #2, “Embrace the mess (that comes with trial an error)” from the perspective of experiential learning we could clarify that this phase is also part of “setting the stage”. What I mean is that it is equally important to create a danger-free context in which to experiment if we expect our learners to launch themselves into what Ramsey terms as “trial and error” but what I would prefer to describe as practice and, following the reflection, application.

Rule #3 – Practice reflection, is divided into three steps that are as follows;

Phase #2 – Share it – We ask ourselves and our team players “What happened?”
Phase #3 – Process it – We discuss “What’s important?”
Phase #4 – Generalise it – We ascertain why it’s important by asking “So what?”

If we just say “practice reflection” without considering offering ideas and guidance on exactly how to reflect we are missing a fundamentally important opportunity to help learners to get the most out of the experience that they are reflecting on. Effective reflection is not just a question of “thinking” about what just happened, for maximum results we need to share it, process it and identify how what we have learned is relevant to us going forward.

In the final phase of experiential learning, we move towards application.

Phase #5 – Apply it (Finally, we ask how we can use what we have learned with “Now what?”).


The 7 Phases of Experiential Learning Design