Kurt Lewin said “there is nothing as practical as a good theory”. It must be clear to anyone that action is more effective if people know what they are doing, on top of which, no action is ever without some kind of theoretical source – “I do this because… or I do this so that…” even if it is not articulated. Hence theory and practice are intimately connected. However, that does not guarantee that when, for instance, we need to learn some new procedure or process, we can put into practice what someone has taught us.
I studied architecture part-time which meant I connected theory and practice on a daily basis. When I switched to full-time study I discovered my fellow students were unable to relate lessons
in structures, construction and systems to the practice of building design. What I had integrated was, to them, no more than unrelated parts. Learning “about” seems to be different from learning to do. We can learn a lot about skiing from books and videos, but that may not enable us to perform well on the slopes.
This is a matter of different levels of learning, as in Bateson’s Learning I, II and III. Learning I is the accumulation or revision of skill and knowledge (the product of most education) and Learning II is a meta-learning that, while enhancing Learning 1, also integrates it with experience, enabling contextual understanding to inform our actions.
It seems likely that, without integration through experience, we can only ever achieve Learning I. Furthermore, only with adequate Learning II might it be possible to achieve learning III, which enables insight to change how we see the world, how we act within it and who we are becoming. Leadership development depends upon Learning III as well as I and II.
On many professional training programmes, people get a great deal of instruction, often divorced from any experience outside of the learning environment and thus integration eludes them. The cumulative effect of this disconnect invisibly erodes society’s capacity for effective action.
At High Trenhouse we have tried to work on all three levels of learning since our inception in the 70s. In the early days sheer necessity obliged us to immerse ourselves (and our clients) in rural subsistence. Our cows were good teachers! When we began to apply what we had learned to management development in the 80s, we
retained group-work and outdoor experiential learning along with a country lifestyle, coupled with theories a
nd thinking processes that enabled people to gain strategic insights. Now, in our Deeper Leadership Programmes, visceral learning is inherent in every aspect; learning from colleagues; learning from nature; learning from activity. Between residential modules: learning from one another; learning from exposure to real-life events; learning from real-life situations. The emphasis is on behaviours at every scale – for the individual, group, organisation and society. People learn to explore, observe and reflect, to give and receive feedback, to seek higher-level learning and to put into practice their evolving theory.
The place itself has evolved to suit this kind of work and is ideal for any facilitator who knows how to work effectively with groups. It has its authentic roots in the land, based on those early days and its origins. It has a wonderful combination of simplicity and appropriateness for development work. This, combined with genuine hospitality, excellent food and immediate access to nature, make it fit for learning I to III! There are very few venues where space and place contribute so effectively to your developmental process.