Experiential Learning


Here I am telling you about this experience 30 years later. I guess experiential learning works!

If you want to teach someone something so they’ll never forget it, try “experiential learning” or as it’s defined, “learning through reflection on doing.” Here’s the simple four-step process . . .

Step 1: Principle and Purpose – People are smart. They don’t care about many things, so they have to really want to learn what you’re about to teach. That means they have to know what you’re teaching and buy into its value for them. As a mentor, start it with . . . “Here’s what I want you to learn and why it’s important for you to learn it.”

Step 2: Assignment – Create an assignment where they have to do something for at least 21 days (the minimum time it takes to form a habit). Dream up an assignment that, if done consistently, will hammer home the principle you’re trying to teach.

Step 3: Experience – The mentee goes and does the assignment “in the real world” each day for the duration of the assigned period. He’s instructed to pay attention to what’s happening while he’s doing it.

Step 4: Debrief, Interpretation and Application – The mentee reports back on what happened. The mentor helps the mentee interpret the outcome, why it happened, and how the principle he learned can help going forward.

I first saw experiential learning on the high ropes course at Camp Highland. Bill Chapman sat us down and explained how our safety had been provided for in advance . . . how we could move on the ropes freely, without fear. He buckled us into our harnesses and had us climb around on ridiculous little ropes at terrifying heights. After we finished he sat us down to debrief, explaining how our life in Christ is like the ropes course. Even though we’re told in advance to “fear not” . . . even though our safety has been provided for with expert supervision (God) and safety harnesses (eternal security), we ignore the truth of our situation and let fear dominate us. He challenged us to live more aware of our safe position in Christ; to take more risk for the Kingdom and trust in what Jesus promised. And here I am telling you about this experience 30 years later. I guess experiential learning works!

Now, of course Bill ripped the process off from Jesus. Scripture tells us how He taught His disciples, sent them out with assignments, debriefed what happened, and applied their learning. In Mark 9, we learn of the time the disciples attempted to cast out demons but failed. Afterwards, Jesus takes them off in private to debrief. “Why couldn’t we drive it out?” they asked. “This kind only comes out with prayer.” Jesus interpreted what happened and instructed them for next time.

In a Radical Mentoring group, one of our first priorities as mentors is to teach men to honor their wives. The assignment? After you arrive home at the end of the day, spend the first five minutes within 5 feet of your wife, actively listening to her and staying in her “frame of reference.” This is to be their daily routine for the next 30 days, and at the next RM session we debrief what happened. The mentor helps the guys see that “voting” the first few minutes of their “re-entry” exclusively to their wives communicates how valuable she is and how much he cares. This one simple experiential learning adventure has helped hundreds of husbands improve their marriages.


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