I recently attended an Experiential Learning event in London. This was number four of five experiential learning modules over the course of the scheme. Each module takes the form of a variety of activities over one, two or three days, and trainees are usually spread across a few central locations around the country (such as London, Leeds and Birmingham) depending roughly on where you are based. The sessions deal with a number of aspects that it is important to consider when working in healthcare, with the aim of helping us prepare for our future as leaders in the NHS. For example, previous topics have addressed giving and receiving feedback, MBTI personality profiling, influencing and persuading others, and considering human factors in the workplace.
Our most recent module looked into the emotional experience associated with working in a caring profession. We each kept an emotional diary for a few days before the event, and spent time looking at these and considering the many emotions we experience even in just one day. Later, some patients and front line staff came along to share with us their emotional experiences of healthcare, both good and bad, which was really useful. We also discussed resilience and wellbeing, both of which are essential – everywhere really, but in healthcare of all places.
People often say that there is no better learning than ‘learning through doing’ and the modules certainly embrace that philosophy. The days are always action-packed – graduates could find themselves doing anything from investigating a patient safety incident and conducting a root cause analysis, to presenting ideas for service improvements to a panel of (real) senior NHS and local authority managers. During the events, there is always plenty of time for reflection on what we have learned and how we can take this forward. It’s also a great opportunity to mix and connect with other graduates.
Personally, I find that the experiential learning modules offer something extra to both the classroom learning we undertake at university and our on-the-job learning at placements, complementing these but providing something additional and different. I suppose in a way, every employer offers some form of ‘experiential learning’ via simply getting on with the job and learning as you go, but too often in my experience this isn’t triangulated with formal training and opportunities to discuss, practice or reflect. Experiential learning on the graduate scheme, on the other hand, provides a dedicated environment for trainees to engage in this type of learning – to try things out, without fear of ‘getting it wrong’, feeling embarrassed or having any impacts on your ‘real life’ job. Of course, I should point out that real life mistakes at work are bound to happen anyway (it’s an inevitable part of the learning curve!), but being offered designated time out to experiment and improve away from the day job is really appreciated by the trainees.
To give you an example, on one of the modules there is the chance to practice a difficult conversation you might have coming up, with an actor playing the role of the other person. You can explore different approaches to the conversation and ‘rewind’ again and again, until you are satisfied. This helps increase your confidence ready for the real version back at work, and you can apply what you learned to future difficult conversations you may have. The modules are full of opportunities such as this, plus tips and strategies to add to your leadership practice; all of which help you gain experience in a short time, and hopefully become a more rounded manager and leader.
We now have a few months to wait before our fifth and final experiential learning module, which I am looking forward to. In the meantime, there is plenty to be getting on with. My advice for experiential learning on the scheme? Give it a go, and make the most of this worthwhile experience.
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