The Advanced Experiential Seminar: A Special Learning Event

Last December I facilitated a two and half days workshop entitled Class, Race, Gender and Other Intersections of Differences and we engaged in a learning form I have named The Advanced Experiential Seminar. The Advanced Experiential Seminar is a combination of academic seminar, where participants engage in serious discussions on a topic and an experiential event, where participants engage in "here and now" activities, reflect on them, generalize and explore how to apply learnings derived from those experiences to real life situations.1 This form of learning seems particularly suitable for a small group five participants and one facilitator of experienced professionals seeking to increase their skills, expand their knowledge, and engage with other experienced colleagues in "pushing" their own theory and practice. The characteristics of the Advanced Experiential Seminar are:

  1. Design and delivery: Imagine a learning event in between a graduate seminar and a purely experiential event. While traditionally, experiential events are described at one end of a continuum of maximum learner participation and lectures are placed at the other end of minimal learner involvement,2 in this type of seminar participants are highly involved with both content and process all throughout. Participants' involvement with the content is not "external to the learner," but deeply personal and engaging.
  2. Outcomes: At the end of an Advanced Experiential Seminar participants gain: a deeper conceptual understanding of the topic; advanced skills related to that topic; and increased awareness of strengths and areas of development in using themselves as instruments of change as it relates to the topic. In addition, because the group is small, they also gain colleagues that become part of their professional network.
  3. Staff roles and Staffing: Staff/faculty performs a variety of important roles, which can be difficult to manage as a single person. For example, they act as Facilitator (F) of group dynamics; F of experiential activities; Content expert; Presenter; Designer; Logistics manager; Overall Dean; Support person; Diversity Role Model, Colleague; and Learner. Whether the workshop is for a small group (8-12) or a very small group (4-6), the requirements for planning and delivering are still very high and a second staff person may be appropriate. On the other hand, less time is spent in the logistics of preparing manuals, registering participants, etc.
  4. Target audience: A highly specialized content/expert group. In the December seminar they were experienced Diversity Professionals.
  5. Relations between staff and participants: There is an ongoing dialectical interplay between participants and staff roles. For example, the staff is more available to participants as colleague and mentor and participants are expected to explicitly share their expertise with each other and the staff, i.e. teach and learn.

At Chaos Management, we believe this form of learning may offer new possibilities for delivering experiential learning and designing and marketing learning events. For example, while I was doubtful about the value of delivering such a resource intensive program for only five participants, I came to see that participant learning was high, participants experienced the dynamics and emotional gains of working in a very small group, and the sponsoring organization had new members experienced its technology and expertise, as well as build its institutional knowledge of the intersections of differences and identity in organizations. Let us know what you think of the Advanced Experiential Seminar.

1 See Kolb. D. A. and Fry, R. 1975. Toward an applied theory of experiential learning. In C. Cooper (ed.) Theories of Group Process, London: John Wiley.

2 See The Technology of Human Relations Training. In J.W. Pfeiffer Reference Guide to Handbook and Annuals, for a scale that goes from Didactic to Experiential, p. 2. 1994. San Diego, CA: Pfeiffer & Co.

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