Experience Is the New Classroom

Posted on January 15, 2016 by Havas PR

Experience creativecommons.org:xamanu

This is the 10th of Havas PR’s “11 Trends for 2016.”

After decades of increasing emphasis on theoretical knowledge, the tide is turning. Now book learning is nothing special. Anyone can get access to information in books and lectures on virtually anything. In fact, the world’s most prestigious universities are offering the fruits of their knowledge free to the whole world in MOOCs. Now it’s practical hands-on skills that are becoming less common and more valued. Hence the growing need for practical, experiential learning that turns the what of content into the how of application. Some might see echoes of old-style apprenticeship systems in that, and they have a point, but there are important differences. Apprentices of old learned from experience, on the job, but they learned from only one master. The emphasis was on obedience and copying to acquire the sort of tacit knowledge that can’t be learned as theory. Today’s experiential learners benefit from self-feeding cycles of theory and practice, with access to a great range of masters and applications. They have a growing selection of organizations aiming to provide rich mixes of learning. And they are free to innovate.

Experience Institute (Ei) focuses on people interested in design, business development, technology and social innovation who want to take a year off from their career or college education. Ei helps individuals identify their learning objectives and, through its connections with companies and organizations, find the experiences that will lead to achieving them. The experiential theme is also strong in Venture for America, which takes recent graduates, trains them for five weeks, embeds them in a startup for two years to build up real-life entrepreneurial experience, then helps them launch their own business. Sage Corps applies this idea internationally, matching American students and young professionals with tech startups around the world so that they can gain on-the-ground hands-on experience. Universities are finding that offering serious experiential programs is a great way to attract motivated students and to enhance their standing. Northeastern University prides itself on having been ahead of the experiential education curve with its long-standing co-op education modules that put undergraduates into organizations around the world as part of their degree.

The fast-growing demand for experiential learning throws a new light on the whole phenomenon of internships, known among millennials now as “the new first jobs.” There has rightly been a lot of controversy about companies exploiting interns as unpaid labor. From another perspective, a good internship run ethically is tantamount to free experiential education.

A trend we spotted for 2010 explains why experience is the new best way for education. Called “Hands-on Aspirations for Insourcing,” our trend said, in part, this: “Now that anybody can access theoretical knowledge online, and so much employment has shifted to the service sector and so much activity involves intangibles, there will be increased interest in mastering practical skills that were previously outsourced: growing things, making things, modifying things and mending things. This goes from the breakthrough high end of genetic engineering and surgery right through to the basics of fixing the plumbing, putting up shelves and growing vegetables. In anxious times, the watchword for peace of mind is: Every day, make something or mend something.”

In the future, organizations will understand that robust experiential education has to be not just a nice-to-have, but rather a core part of their business model, giving them the benefit of fresh minds, creating a pipeline of valuable talent, cutting down on recruitment costs and garnering CSR kudos. Internships and experiential education will increasingly become an option for older workers looking to retool for the changing workplace.

[photo: creativecommons.org/xamanu]

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