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The secret to owning the learning experience

I’m sure we’ve all been there: attended a company training course where the trainer takes charge of the whole process. They instruct you to engage with a series of prescriptive exercises with predetermined outcomes.

It can feel like it has very little link to your real working world. And it doesn’t foster any kind of creativity. Or innovation.

Artgym does things very differently. Our coaches and facilitators empower learners with a sense of ownership of the process right from the start.

Why do we do this?

Because when learners own the process they are much more likely to be engaged. And their learning is far more relevant and applicable.

So how do we achieve this?

For this article, we asked Artgym’s Program Lead, Raymond Honings, to share his insights from a recent six-month program we designed and delivered for a leading pharmaceutical company.

An example leadership development program.

From December 2020 to June 2021, we ran a next generation Leadership Development Program for 15 of our client’s managers. It’s an innovative program designed to create the next generation of leaders who can drive change, bring about innovation and achieve growth. There were three elements to the program:

  • Personal integrity
  • Entrepreneurship
  • Team dynamics

We’ve designed it as a real-time, real-world immersive experience. Its aim is to develop and engage a community of future leaders with the mindset and behaviours they need to thrive in an environment of continuous transformation.

We usually deliver this as a blend of face-to-face workshops and virtual work but the pandemic dictated they were held 100% virtually.

In between the workshops, we set self-directed and team ‘pre-work and post-work’ challenges for the participants to self direct. This gave them a different way to stay engaged with each other and with the program, through exploring resources and working either on individual or group challenges.

The first challenge was before we met as a group, and the second was after the initial workshop. The final challenge was a three-month team assignment where they had to identify an opportunity for innovation within the business and then design, deliver and present a project around this.

Seven steps to ownership.

To help create a sense of ownership for their own learning among the participants, we undertook the following seven steps:

  1. An early assignment 
To engage the learners right from the outset, we needed immediate commitment from them. So we set them an assignment they had to complete before they came together on screen. That way, they already felt part of the programme in the lead up to Day 1.
  2. Team work 
We divided the group into two teams which meant they weren’t on their own but could solve problems together. It doesn’t matter if they are in pairs or in bigger groups, as long as you put people together. That way, everyone felt they were an integral part of a common goal.
  3. Innovation challenge 
We gave the teams a real life project to work on. This was a project designed to take three or four months to complete that would help improve the business. This gave them a sense of pride that they were contributing to the success of the company.

These were the three key factors from a program perspective that helped instil a sense of ownership in the learner. But there were also things we did, as facilitators, which were just as important.

  1. Sense of connection 
We established a great connection with the participants. So we engaged in conversations and discussions; we were also willing to be questioned and even to engage in arguments where participants challenged us as facilitators.
  2. Empathy and understanding 
We demonstrated to the participants we had a good understanding of the client company. But more than this, we showed we knew what it was like to be in their own managerial shoes by sharing stories from our own in-house corporate experience.
  3. Room to manoeuvre 
Right from the outset we gave all the participants enough space. For example, we encouraged everyone to figure things out for themselves, either on their own, or together with their team. We wanted active participants – not passive attendees.
  4. A growth mindset 
Finally to help participants drive and feel ownership for their learning, we created an environment and instilled a mindset where they were curious to take the next step and have the confidence to move outside their comfort zone to try new things.

“By allowing them to take ownership of the issue, they’re able to understand more easily and so gain a more profound learning experience.”

Raymond Honings, one of the Artgym team, says: “When you give people more space and room to manoeuvre, they end up with much deeper insight. Because, by allowing them to take ownership of the issue, they’re able to understand more easily and so gain a more profound learning experience.

It all begins by encouraging a growth mindset. So, rather than a fixed mindset that says: ‘I stick to what I know’ and ‘I avoid challenges’, we encourage a growth mindset that says things like: ‘I keep trying and never give up’ and ‘My mistakes help me grow’. After all, if you get the mindset right, the rest will follow.“

What does it feel like to ‘own’ the learning journey?

  • Solving real problems together
  • Sharing learning
  • Individual self-directed challenges
  • Giving and receiving feedback
  • Being accountable to a partner
  • Participating actively
  • Self empowerment
  • Collaboration within a team

We expected the participants to apply the mindset, methods and behaviours that would help them shape the future of their organisation. We also expected them to assess, measure and track their own development. As part of this, we gave them a collaborative, creative and practical environment where they could learn, stretch and grow. Because when you empower participants to take ownership of their learning, they soon find out what they’re really capable of. As a result, they grow in self-confidence and are much more willing and able to be problem solvers, whatever the situation.

The result? Our client is delighted it now has a new team of talented leaders who are equipped to help drive the transformation of the business.