To learn how to facilitate, you need to dive in

A practical method for starting from experience and building on it to learn this (and any other) trade.

January 22, 2024
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7 min read
two women laughing and working around a table during a workshop

This article is part of the How we work series. You can also read this article in Italian and Spanish.

If you would like to receive updates on this and other topics related to the evolving world of work, subscribe to our newsletter here: https://cocoon-pro.com/#subscribe

If you would like to learn more, or bring this approach to your organisation, please contact us here: https://cocoon-pro.com/get-in-touch/

Has anyone ever learned to swim by reading a book?

We believe that the shared answer is: no, it is not possible to learn to swim without getting into the water, experiencing buoyancy and then understanding concretely how to move forward.

This is true in every sport and, after all, it is a simple and intuitive concept. However, in all those areas of learning that do not directly involve motor skills, we forget how crucial direct experience is to the learning process.

Why is starting from experience relevant to learning, or improving, skills in the art of facilitation? Whether you are already a facilitator or want to understand how facilitation can help you in your work, let’s start from here.

A PIVOTAL ASPECT OF THE LEARNING PROCESS

Learning is the process by which we acquire new knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviour, or modify existing ones. It is an activity that involves us on multiple levels and cannot be separated from concrete experience, which takes into account the context and the relationships with the environment.

Many have devoted years to the study of the mechanisms through which human beings learn, and some of them have reserved significant attention in their research for the role of experience in this context.

Believing deeply that learning, to be effective, must be rooted in experience, we have designed and field-tested a method that has become the core of the experiences where we accompany practitioners in the acquisition of skills: we have named it the BEDT cycle (Briefing, Experience, Debriefing, Theory).

This approach to training was born many years ago at Cocoon Pro, primarily in response to the need to evolve our skills internally. It is precisely by experiencing the BEDT cycles in practice, and on our own skin, that we have seen how the rhythmic alternation of phases and the harmonious development of one cycle after another lead to a significant, lasting and effective skills acquisition.

THE PHASES OF THE BEDT CYCLE

Those who participate in training experiences using BEDT cycles find the structure of the cycles both simple and impactful. BEDT works so well because each phase has a distinct identity, objective and very specific characteristics. But let’s start from the beginning.

B as Briefing

The cycle begins here! A precise, concise, well-structured question or concrete challenge is presented to the workshop participants. A clear incipit. A few minutes to gather ideas and then it’s time for action.

E as Experience

Now, we enter into the heart of the matter and get our “hands dirty”. The goal is to answer the question in the best possible way by drawing on one’s own skills. The task or situation might be challenging or something unexpected disrupts our plans, and we have to ‘invent a way out of it’. But that is precisely the essence of this phase: to experiment and test oneself in a real (and safe) situation in order to experience first hand what it means to achieve that goal.

It is not important to do things right; what matters is fully living the experience, including difficult moments.

D as Debriefing

Then comes the reflection, and this part is divided into two moments. First, there is a round-table discussion to leave room for sharing how everyone felt during the experience. Then we move on to feedback, which provides a multi-perspective view of what happened, emphasising the most significant moments. The aim is to highlight what worked particularly well and what could have been done differently. There is never a judgement on the person, what matters is the experience. It’s important to remind, to oneself and others, that both sides of the feedback are crucial in order to send back, as a mirror would, a meaningful and useful image.

T as Theory

It is only now, at the end of the cycle, that the theoretical assumptions behind the challenge that started this cycle are shared, along with the ‘technical tips’ that help participants understand how they could cope without encountering — or coping better with — the difficulties that arose during practice. But why does all this come only at the end?

Let’s go back to the ‘Experience’ phase for a moment.

When we are faced with a challenge, we are called upon to rely on all the resources we have to reach the goal. Rarely does anyone tell us ‘how to do it’ and this is true for anything in life, not just when we are facilitating!

Practising this phase using one’s own skills, even in a creative manner (and we have incredible stories to tell about this), stimulates learning on multiple levels, because it brings into play what the person knows about that topic on a rational level but also so much more, such as inclination, attitude and emotions.

You learn a lot in this phase, about yourself and the topic you are working on, precisely because you don’t just rely on ‘what the books say’, but you fully experience the situation from multiple points of view.

The moments of difficulty one encounters, as well as the insights that proudly lead to a good result, leave a lasting impression even years later, because they have been experienced in reality. It is precisely by relying on this lived experience that theoretical assumptions find fertile ground on which to take root.

WHY THE BEDT CYCLE WORKS: SCIENTIFIC BASIS AND EVIDENCE FROM REAL APPLICATIONS

When theoretical concepts are woven into the fabric of lived experience, they make knowledge even more concrete and applicable. At the neurological level, significant effects are produced that influence the way the brain processes information and acquires skills.

Speaking of the experiential learning model, we cannot fail to mention Kurt Lewin who emphasised, among other things, the value of the tension created between experience and theory and the importance of working on this tension in order to generate better learning. Similarly, John Dewey emphasised the role of feedback in the learning cycle (already present in Lewin’s model) and David Kolb who argued that knowledge is the result of the transformation of experience.

Also for Jean Piaget, experience plays a central role in the learning process of children who, through active interaction with their environment, build their understanding of the world and develop increasingly sophisticated cognitive skills.

This attests that there is a substantial body of scientific research behind these concepts. To conclude, we will mention here just three points, the most relevant to us, explaining why approaches such as the BEDT cycle are so effective in learning and evolving notions and skills.

1. Experiential learning stimulates different parts of the brain involved in memory, such as the hippocampus. Hands-on experience creates more vivid and emotionally significant memories than listening or reading alone and, as a result, we are likely to remember them for longer.

Years later, participants in experiences such as the Facilitation primer have told us that “what happens during BEDT cycles is unfogettable”. :)

2. Practical experience encourages the creation of synaptic connections between neurons, facilitating the formation of stronger neural networks. When theory is then presented, the brain is predisposed to easily connect new concepts to previous experience.

This naturally brings up the conversation of how much movement, hands-on activities and serious games, can amplify these connections but we will talk about that at another time. Promise!

3. Learning through experience elicits a more intense emotional involvement than purely theoretical training and the activation of emotions encourages the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which enhances memory and increases the motivation to learn.

SO, SHALL WE DIVE IN?

The structure is clear and as we said before, simple. But is it enough to line up the four phases to learn or to teach a new skill such as facilitation effectively?

We believe not. What we have seen make a difference is to live these moments alongside someone who has gone down the same road before us. Someone who knows how to design a training where, through several successive BEDT cycles, they can transmit not only what they know about the subject matter in question but, above all, their concrete experience gained over years of fieldwork.

Would you like to experience first-hand what that means?

Join us for one of the next training experiences dedicated to acquiring mastery in facilitation. We have only one training session planned in 2024 for a maximum of 15 participants.

Therefore, we have created a waiting list: sign up without obligation to be notified when registrations open and have priority in the allocation of available seats, here.

The BEDT cycle invites us to be guided by action to explore new challenges, and become protagonists of our learning rather than passive recipients of training. So, now it’s our turn. Shall we dive in and learn to swim?

We are waiting for you!


You might also be interested in reading: What is serious play? And why is it so powerful for work environments?


This article is part of the How we work series. You can also read this article in Italian and Spanish.

If you would like to receive updates on this and other topics related to the evolving world of work, subscribe to our newsletter here: https://cocoon-pro.com/#subscribe

If you would like to learn more, or bring this approach to your organisation, please contact us here: https://cocoon-pro.com/get-in-touch/

This is the account of our staff at Cocoon Pro. Wish to know who are the people in Cocoon curating our content production?Have a look at the people page on our website here. For any question or feedback we would be happy to hear from you! Reach out here: hello@cocoon-pro.com