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Going Ape

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Mon Sep 10 2012

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I love learning. There’s a thrill to uncovering new information or learning a new skill. Since I’ve worked at ASTD, I’ve been increasingly conscious of how I learn—and even more aware of how others try to teach me. This past week, I had an amazing experience at Go Ape that made me reflect on how some people learn best. Go Ape describes itself as a “treetop adventure.” At Go Ape you traverse a series of treetop rope bridges, ladders, cargo nets, and zip lines. Simply stated: It’s a blast.

An unconventional—and surprisingly effective—aspect to Go Ape’s strategy for achieving competence is that you and your group are essentially on your own. You’re equipped with a rock climbing harness and carabiners to attach to safety lines throughout the course, but there is no guide shadowing you to make sure you’re properly harnessed or to help connect you to one of the five zip lines. Your safety is in your own hands. So, how is it that Go Ape is actually safe for users?

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One word: Training.

Before you’re sent into the course, you have to go through a training course on how to use the equipment and attach to the various safety lines. First, our instructor gave us a verbal run-through of how to use the equipment, which was color-coded to further increase ease of use. After that, we were led through an on-the-ground practice area. Then, we were put through a short course only a few feet off the ground. The whole time, we were observed by the instructor, who corrected a handful of us (including myself) who clipped in to the safety line improperly or who forgot to always have a safety line attached.

This process of verbal overview, then hands-on practice with increasing difficulty was invaluable. By the time my friends and I were unleashed on the course, we were feeling confident and moved through it with relative ease. Along the way, helpful job aids and reminders were posted.

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Clipping a carabiner to a safety line and attaching to zip line are not complex (10-year-old kids are allowed on the course with adult supervision). But the stakes are extremely high. If you fall, you are breaking _something—_or worse. So, congrats to the Go Ape team for creating a thoughtful experiential training course that brings learners up to proficiency on equipment and techniques they have likely never encountered, much less relied on for safety.

How is this experience connected to technology? Well, I’m not sure, but I think it is this… The challenge many online learning developers struggle with is how to translate experiential learning experiences to an online world. We try simulations, virtual worlds, blended learning, and so on. It doesn’t always work, but we keep trying. Sometimes non-techno learning experiences remind us how we best master certain skills. For me, that reminder was the progressive nature of the training—not to mention the fact that sometimes—just sometimes—you have to let people go to see what they can do. And let’s not forget that having fun is pretty important, too.

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\*“Always stay attached” image courtesy of psd on Flickr.

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