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The 3 key aspects to double your learning from your own entrepreneurial experience

"Tell Me and I Will Forget; Show Me and I May Remember; Involve Me and I Will Understand."

Confucius is reputed to have said this way back in 450 B.C., and even though people have been thinking about this for a long time, only now are we seeing a shift in education in that direction.

Martin Bliemel, the Director of Research at the UTS:TD School in Sydney, has been implementing this philosophy in his work for a long time, and has found the key aspects he tries to embed into every subject, course and module he and Julien Marchand designed, that provide the foundation upon which they then add reflection.

Both Martin and Julien have shared their experience and findings in one of our Playing Lean Expert webinars back in February of this year. They discussed how you can double your learning from your own entrepreneurial experience through reflection and interruption.

One of those key aspects is that everything they teach is experiential. Teaching and learning is not just about classroom and book learning, or digesting materials and resources, but also making sense of them through applying them.

''The difference between classroom learning and experiential learning is like the difference between learning about roller coasters by watching one from across the street, and learning about them while gripping the front handrail during the ride.'' - McCormick, D.W.

Educators have a responsibility to guide the students through that experience, but doing it in a way that is safe to fail. One fun way to do that is through simulations, like the Playing Lean game or role-playing.

Martin has been a Playing Lean Facilitator for a long time, and has used Playing Lean since its first release. He has found that the game is highly experiential and gets the students to learn by doing.

One of the advantages the game provides educators is that it can be run in 90 minutes as opposed to some workshops that go on for 12 weeks. As the game is fast-paced, it forces the students to think all the time and the learning is immediate.

There are 3 good times when an educator can use the game (one doesn't exclude the other):

  •  Early (more formative)

Using the game right at the beginning exposes the students to all the jargon and basic concepts. It can overwhelm them, but you as the facilitator of the game can help them make sense of all the jargon.

  • Mid-.way

In this stage you can bring the core concepts to life, and explain concepts with more nuanced examples. By this time, Martin has already discussed a few case studies in the classroom, and hosted guest speakers, so during the game he can refer back to those lessons and ask how a moment in the game relates to a moment when, for example, a guest speaker was giving a talk on a specific subject..

  • Late (more summative)

In this stage, the game can be a lively re-cap and refresher of concepts. It's also a great way to test students and ask them to provide examples.

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The other key aspect, other than being experiential and learning by doing, is that these experiences must resonate as much as possible with what actually happens in a real startup. The experience has to be authentic, and tap into the emotions students would get to feel once they start their own startup.

Contextualizing what an educator is teaching students in a setting that is as authentic as possible, makes those experiences more retrievable. So by the time students graduate and start their own startup or work in an innovation lab, they'll recognize much quicker that this feels and looks like something they've learned through different exercises.

Apart from being experiential and authentic, another key aspect is that students actually learn from these authentic experiences through reflection. Learning from experiences requires them to pause and reflect on what's been happening and relate it to prior experiences.

Unfortunately, research has shown that students are very bad at this, because reflection is a skill that needs to be developed over time. This is why an educator needs to not just teach them what to do and how to do it, but also how to learn from doing it.

Martin shared a framework that is based on Conte N. (2015) Preceptors guidance in students' self-reflection that can help with reflection.

The basic way to go about it is to:

  • Describe what has happened.
  • Try to make sense of it and review/evaluate/judge how well it went (from a logical perspective).
  • From an emotional perspective, acknowledge your emotions, how did this resonate with your instinct, gut feeling.
  • How did the experience relate to other experiences?
  • Eureka or reinforcing? Specific changes required?

Coaches, facilitators and educators have to figure out when are the times to reflect. On the example of Playing Lean, facilitators can stop the game (interrupt) after each round, to enforce learning. Although it may seem like it can overwhelm them, interruptions like this can be beneficial because it is something that can also happen in a real incubator, accelerator or startup.

What impact does all of this have on students – the experiential, authentic and reflection?

Martin and Julien have run a couple of experiments from multi-day workshops, and have found that if you’re running a larger workshop and teaching people to do something, you expect their experience to slowly go upwards, so their confidence and capabilities slowly increase. Most participants came in mildly confident (but not too sure), and went home with new learnings and a boost of confidence in their abilities.

But, several workshops that were done in accelerators in New Zealand have shown some other effects as well. People from these workshops came into them pretty confident, but then got a reality check where they realized how much they actually don’t know. They think they’ve unlearned something, so their confidence had a downward shift, but eventually at the end of the workshop, their confidence was boosted so it went slightly up again.

These types of situations show that facilitation is also important, where you choose how you want to run the simulation. With Playing Lean, you as a facilitator can choose how much of the rules you share with players, all depending on your facilitation style. You can choose to share nothing, or explain just the basic rules and have them learn by playing it, guiding them and slowly boosting their confidence, where by the end of the game they have learned a lot, either by winning or losing.

The takeaway from all of this is that if you’re training, teaching or mentoring people, you want to give them as real an experience as possible. You have to make sure that it’s an experience, not an education. 

In one of our next blog posts, we’re going to reflect on what Julien shared in the webinar on why founders need to build a reflective mindset. To stay up to date with the latest Playing Lean news, and also get access to all of past and future webinar recordings, subscribe to our newsletter!

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