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BUSINESS FOCUS - EDUCATION - MANAGERS AND SALES STAFF LEARN SKILLS FASTER OUTDOORS

Go build an igloo

THE WORD education brings to mind the image of hard work among books and heaps of paper. However, learning by experience can not only be more exciting and just plain fun than sitting in a classroom, it may also help students remember and obtain knowledge and skills more quickly and easily.
Companies in Slovakia are slowly catching on to the international trend in experiential education and have decided to train their workers in areas like team cooperation, communication, or managerial skills in an active setting.


MORE fun than making phone calls and surfing the internet?
photo: Courtesy of Outward Bound Slovakia

THE WORD education brings to mind the image of hard work among books and heaps of paper. However, learning by experience can not only be more exciting and just plain fun than sitting in a classroom, it may also help students remember and obtain knowledge and skills more quickly and easily.

Companies in Slovakia are slowly catching on to the international trend in experiential education and have decided to train their workers in areas like team cooperation, communication, or managerial skills in an active setting.

Participants go through various model situations in interactive games or sports. They receive theory through the situations they experience. Later, they retain the lesson and can more easily use the theory in real life.

Such learning is based on experiential pedagogy. Agencies providing trainings for companies often prefer to teach outside and try to free participants from their traditional working environment.

"For example, a group is supposed to rappel down a slope. They have to solve a task. After rappelling, analysis of the experienced event follows - how the team worked, how the tasks were distributed, how strong the team support was, who felt what - who trusted who.

"A group sees what could be improved and transformed into practice as well. People can experience various situations in simulation that they can later apply in practice [at work]," Barbora Balogová, project manager of Outward Bound Slovakia - Štúdio zážitku told The Slovak Spectator.


TODAY you build a raft, tomorrow a portfolio.
photo: Courtesy of Outward Bound Slovakia

Although outdoor training and learning by experience have existed in Slovakia for about 10 years, Slovak companies still perceive them as something new and suspicious - an experimental approach to learning.

According to Jana Pružinská, trainer from the ARK agency, Slovak companies, mainly those without foreign capital and know-how, still underestimate the value of educating their employees.

"They think in a short-term perspective. They think it is useless to educate their employees because they will leave the firm soon anyway. They do not try to develop positive relationships between the employer and the employees, the workers' loyalty," Pružinská said.

Foreign companies often spend a lot of time looking for a suitable employee. They then try to form and educate him and build his loyalty to the company, she emphasised.

Outdoor training and learning by experience can be a way of further educating and gaining the loyalty of a firm's employees.

Employees can develop skills in distributing tasks, leadership, coping with stress, presentation skills, time management, or sale skills through various activities carried out mainly outdoors, often in attractive natural settings.


OFFICE mates collaborate outside on complex tasks.
photo: Courtesy of Outward Bound Slovakia

Participants, for example, overcome various obstacles built from special ropes. Obstacles have different levels of difficulty, some even requiring mountaineering equipment. To overcome them, people need courage, invention, cooperation, and responsibility for others.

Employees can also go through rock climbing, rappelling, white-water rafting, and caving. Sometimes their task can be to construct a vessel and then use it for a voyage.

Team cooperation can also be tested through summer or winter expeditions including wilderness camping, terrain orientation, wilderness cooking, crossing a mountain ridge on skis and snowshoes, or even igloo building.

Activities are often complex. The emphasis is placed on planning, time management, coordination, information sharing, and communication. The success of the whole team depends on cooperation among all the participants and the output of every individual taking part.

As the complexity of the tasks increases, so does the level of cooperation between team members. Review and analysis sessions often follow the activities.

Participants also often experience "personal challenge" tests, where an individual has to overcome his fear of the unknown and break his mental barriers.

"Imagine a 40-year-old lady who works in environments different from the outdoors and she sees a 40-metre-high rappelling route. She says no way. But after she does it, she thinks a while and then she decides to do it again," Balogová said.

"Team support plays an important role in this as well. The people might fear something that they have never experienced, like heights, but the team support helps them overcome it. At the end, it is a great experience and benefit for them," added Katarína Zaťková, Outward Bound Slovakia project manager.

New experiences help people widen the borders of their comfort zone, meaning they are suddenly willing to learn things that they would previously have refused to even think of.

Outdoor activities are created through the cooperation of psychologists, pedagogues, specialists in teaching adults, and sometimes therapists.

The programme of an outdoor training session is usually tailored according to a client's needs, and human resources managers should decide on the main weaknesses of their team when they want to sign it up for one. Agencies then propose methods and forms of a training based on the managers' requirements.

Ideally, an outdoor training programme should be part of a company's whole education system and timetable.

"We try to persuade our clients not to be afraid of experiments. In Slovakia, skills like solving conflict, coping with stress, sales, time management, and presentation are usually done indoors," Balogová said.

"We are trying to put those skills in outdoor training as well. Abroad, it is normal to also train people outdoors in these skills.

"The latest trend is to combine outdoor and indoor training," she continued.

However, Balogová emphasised that the latest boom of outdoor training in Slovakia also brings risks to clients in their choice of a training agency.

"There are many people who are mountain climbers or spelunkers and act like trainers, but they are not real trainers. A company that decides on outdoor training should not choose hastily. It should look at a trainer's portfolio, safety standards, and references," she said.

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