‘Unfreeze’ Your Learning in Labs

How do learning labs foster innovative thinking and learning?

Mention the word "laboratories" or "labs" and people often think of white coats and sterile environments. However, in the adult education and training industry, a very different type of lab is quickly emerging as hotbeds for learning, growth and innovation.

Learning labs, real-life test and experimentation environments where learners, educators and producers co-create learning innovations, serve a wide number of educational purposes. More than just a facility for e-learning and blended learning, the labs are able to simulate real-life scenarios for specialised professions such as pilots, fire fighters and nurses. Labs are also a useful platform to test and refine novel and innovative learning solutions that can later be commercialised and brought to the market space.

But how do labs foster innovative thinking and learning?

According to seminal theorist Kurt Lewin, the information we often receive in our daily lives helps confirm and reinforce what we already know. This information spans from the actions, attitudes and identities of the people around us, as well as organisational tasks, demands, pressure and daily work routines.

As a result of this, we become comfortable and are not spurred on to learn, according to Associate Professor Steen Høyrup Pedersen, Aarhus University, Denmark, in his article “How do we learn in learning laboratories? In pursuit of the optimal learning arena”.

Thus, through a structured facility supported for conducting learning observation, experimenting innovation and incubating learning products and solutions, members of the CET community leave a comfortable and ‘confirming’ setting and sheds aside all of his or her preconceived ideas and notions. “In the lab, relations are different; demands, roles, expectations etc. are different. The taken-for-granted is challenged. This is an unfreezing situation that opens the individual to learning,” Pedersen writes.

Furthermore, labs are often “psychologically safe environments” that encourage the CET community to train, practice, and even fail, while rewarding them for innovative thinking and experimentation. This encouraging environment also allows learners to overcome any anxiety they may have about doing things that are wrong or imperfect.

On another point, Pedersen argues that learning labs succeed in helping learners learn because they provide a space for inquiry and reflection, as learners can distance themselves from their usual “mental models, concepts, knowledge and experience” to stop and think on their processes.

Quick Takeaways:
Adult educators incorporating learning laboratories into their training programmes should tap into the best qualities of labs:

  1. providing a new setting to ‘unfreeze’ learners and spur their learning
  2. providing a safe space for learners to overcome their anxiety of failure and imperfection
  3. providing a place for reflection and experimentation

This article first appeared in IALeads (August 2015 issue), an e-magazine from the Institute for Adult Learning.

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