A recent visit to a leadership training camp prompted the question ‘what’s the point of all this pole climbing?’.
The very reasonable question was posed by a colleague who had not been part of the experience. Where to start?
Faraday was asked ‘what’s the point of electricity?’ Being a bright spark himself, he was able to reply ‘What’s the point of a baby?’
Experiential learning has to be experienced
It is perhaps a dilemma of leadership. No amount of conceptualizing seems to help answer such a question. The fundamental divide may be between those who learn from experience, and those whose reluctance to engage with experience prevents them from ever finding out for themselves.
Case for the prosecution
It is very difficult to demonstrate the direct link between experiential learning and subsequent real-life behaviors. Therefore, the cost-effectiveness of such programs are also difficult to demonstrate.
Individuals will have very different capabilities to cope with the physical and emotional challenges they are confronted with.
Organizations are increasingly aware of the corporate duty of care, and where the ultimate legal responsibilities and sanctions fall.
Case for the defense
It is very difficult to demonstrate the link between almost any form of business education and subsequent real-life behaviors. There are various technical reasons. These can be found (among other sources) in the Chapter in Dilemmas of Leadership as well as in texts on evaluative inquiry for learning in organizations.
The entire Business School curriculum is increasingly under pressure to accept its limitations, and change to cope with the challenges of the 21st century. The rankings of Business Schools are widely regarded as based on dubious mathematical manipulations and rely on indirect measures of assessing educational value (proportion of faculty with higher degrees; average salary gains among its graduates; ratings in scholarly publications …). Nor is there much agreement about the relative merits of various ranking systems.
Students generally rate experiential projects highly. The exit assessments for the cohort of the Business School described here were overwhelmingly in favour of the projects as a valued part of the course.
A better way?
Here’s a challenge. There must be better ways of assessing the impact of experiential learning as part of a business education.