The term leap experience was first coined back in the early 1990s to describe the rapid learning curve that can be achieved by placing a high talent individual into a targeted work assignment. Such a work assignment would be designed to take them out of their comfort zone and beyond their current level of competence. If they succeed in this stretched and challenging environment the learning is rapid and powerful.
The essence of a leap experience is that of throwing the learner in at the deep end which in itself must be regarded as a high risk learning strategy. Would you be comfortable expecting a new driver to learn simply by getting behind the wheel and working out how to drive by trial and error? The risk of course is that they will fail by crashing the vehicle. However, it is also true that a new driver will only become competent by practising the art of driving.
The compromise solution in the case of learning to drive a car is to have a theory test, a hazard perception test and then to allow the learner to practise under the supervision of an experienced driver and/or a qualified driving instructor. Once they have had sufficient practice and guidance, the new driver will be ready to take and hopefully pass a driving test. Will they be a competent driver as soon as they have passed their driving test? Unlikely!
A new driver will need to practice for many more hours before they would be regarded as competent. In fact, many people would claim that one only learns how to drive after passing one’s driving test. Consider driving on motorways, driving in poor weather conditions, anticipating the misdemeanours of other drivers, using a multi-storey car park and so on. These are all mini forms of leap experiences. If the driver has a basic talent for driving, exposure to the relevant driving scenario is likely to give rise to a rapid learning experience.
And so it is with just about any form of learning, although practice makes perfect is somewhat inaccurate. Conveniently, the word LEAP can be broken down into an acronym to pinpoint the process that encompasses experiential learning – Learn, Experience, Apply, Perform.
The LEARN element involves providing the individual with the underpinning knowledge and developing or transferring the relevant skills. It is here where one ensures the individual has the appropriate level of talent before exposing them to a leap experience.
During the EXPERIENCE stage we are concerned with providing opportunities for practice. This can either be in safe, supervised or simulated situations or the higher risk option of live and unsupervised practice.
The APPLY stage is an extension of this practice into a wider variety of practical situations, ideally unsupervised. While the lack of supervision at this stage represents a risk, it is likely to be less of an issue if there were a degree of coaching involved at the previous stage.
PERFORM is the end result of a successful learning experience. The individual is able to perform at a competent level, without supervision.
There are of course variations on the theme but essentially LEAP is how people learn best. This provides the foundation and the inspiration behind how we operate at the Experiential Learning Centre. We look to address the knowledge component either in advance of a training course or during the early stages of the programme. The majority of the time is spent on exposing delegates to carefully designed simulations and activities, often with the additional benefit of expert coaching interventions. Towards the end of each training course we then focus their minds on opportunities to apply what has been learned back in the workplace. On returning to work they are able to practice with minimal supervision in order to become a competent performer.
Intuitively, most people would accept that leap experiences and the underpinning LEAP methodology is the right way for people to learn. The problem is for managers to have the time and skill to be able to create the right leap experiences for their staff without risking current performance. Sending a staff member on a training course is often the preferred option but this presents the challenge of transferring what has been learned in the classroom into the workplace. If the manager has the time and the skills to do so, coaching the staff member upon their return to work is an excellent option.
Where time and/or coaching skill is lacking, an experiential training programme provides an excellent alternative. I would go so far as to suggest that a well designed and run experiential training course provides a safe leap experience. That is, the reward of rapid, applied learning without the risks attached to learning in a live work environment.
Simon Cooper is Chief Executive of the Experiential Learning Centre, based in the UK but operating worldwide. He is also the author of Brilliant Leader and architect of the unique and powerful experiential workshop, Brilliant Leadership.
2 days ago