New forms of learning by doing seem to be emerging. Technology could play a role in finding innovative ways to enable skills development and greater understanding of personal actions, reactions and decisions.

What is changing?

A UK school has been praised for its hands on approach to helping pupils learn how to develop entrepreneurial and teamwork skills – the hard way: by developing and presenting a small business. Another school was experimenting with pupils making real decisions about what charities should receive a philanthropic donation – with great success.

Harvard has recently followed the example of other universities and started a practical hands-on learning experiment as part of its MBA program: FIELD – Field Immersion Experiences for Leadership Development. The curriculum focuses during the first year on applying skills: developing leadership and team skills through exercises based loosely on US army exercises; working abroad for a week in any one of 11 countries; developing a start up using $3000 start up money.

MIT’s Age-Lab has developed an ‘ageing suit’ which though a combination of vision distortion, balance disruption and other constraints helps designers, or anyone else, understand better and adapt to the needs of an ageing population.

Why is this important?

Learning by doing has always been essential, and we seem to be returning to variations on that theme. Technology will undoubtedly have a role to play in enabling radically new ways to develop experience, but the shift that is needed may be more about recognising the need for very different styles of learning and the importance of a wider range of experience in order to change attitudes and behaviours as well as develop skills.

Flight simulators have long been an important part of pilot training. Augmented and virtual reality environments and gaming will be able to provide ever more realistic forms of training. Could we soon see required time for new, especially young, drivers to use game simulations of driving under different conditions – at night, in very busy situations –to clock up hours but also to monitor and diagnose skills and attention, especially ability to see hazards early?

In the early days of Second Life a doctor created a ward where his students could practise their bedside skills. With growing concerns about the poor treatment of elderly patients in UK hospitals, perhaps experiencing being an elderly patient, with all the attendant physical constraints, might be an important way to enable real empathy and understanding.

Interactive films, where users influence the film via thoughts, although they have been developed as a leisure/ entertainment product, are being explored to help prisoners to understand and learn to control their reactions in specific situations, to reduce anger and control emotions. Such training courses could help reduce reoffending rates and assist rehabilitation.

Experience has always been important, and these developments appear to reflect two well known sayings:  that to be an expert at anything requires a minimum of 10,000 hours – and that is a necessity, not a sufficiency i.e. it could take a lot longer depending on ability and determination. The other is: do not criticise someone’s life until you have walked a mile in their shoes. New technology and new approaches to gaining experience could enable more of us to meet the demands of experience, develop better decision making, perhaps see the consequences of our actions more clearly – as well as develop skills.

By Sheila Moorcroft

About the author

Sheila has over 20 years experience helping clients capitalise on change – identifying changes in their business environment, assessing the implications and responding effectively to them. As Research Director at Shaping Tomorrow she has completed many futures projects on topics as diverse as health care, telecommunications, innovation management, and premium products for clients in the public and private sectors. Sheila also writes a weekly Trend Alert to highlight changes that might affect a wide range of organisations.