What connects After Action Review and the teaching of Fredrich Froebel, the man who coined the term “Kindergarten”? 

The end of the summer is an important time for many families as A level results arrive and young people begin the next stage of life at university or in employment. My own choice of university was heavily influenced by the philosophy of the college I applied to and this interest has remained a major influence throughout my professional life.

I studied Education at Froebel College, named after the German educator Friedrich Froebel who coined the word “ kindergarten” in 1840.  When books and formal teaching methods dominated, Froebel’s’  great insight was to recognise the importance of the activity of the child in learning,  at a time when play and physical activity was considered largely worthless in the learning process, and indeed quite frivolous.

Formal v blended education

For over 100 years since Froebel College has educated its students within the principle that valuable learning takes place through experience and our schools are much richer learning environments because of it.  The real value to me has been in fully understanding that this doesn’t just apply to childhood. We are learning all the time through the “doing” in our daily activities but because our society still emphasises formal education approaches, we frequently fail to recognise it and capitalise on it. The status given to degree courses in highly academic universities where the lecture format dominates over those where there are blended learning styles, reflects the legacy of the traditional understanding of learning.

Chinese Takeaways

Our workplaces largely reflect this traditional view as well. When we want to develop our staff and equip them with the knowledge and skills they need to progress in the organisation, we tend to send them on a training course. However well intended this  habit may be, the result is a bit like eating a Chinese takeaway dinner. Whilst it may be satisfying and enjoyable at the time, you feel hungry again two hours later as it can’t nourish and sustain you.

In contrast to this is the “learning culture” approach embodied in workplace coaching, agile retrospectives and After Action Review, where peoples’ own experience is used as the source of lasting learning. Today I read the report of an After Action Review which perfectly illustrates the enormous potential for change this creates.

Max’s Lightbulb moment

This one page summary was of an AAR that one of our clients had held, to learn from a far from a perfect on-boarding process but it was the postscript added by the AAR Conductor that really captured my attention. Following the military approach to AARs where there is no rank in learning, our AAR Conductors can be from any level within the organisation.  For this one, it was someone quite senior, the Business Unit Director who I shall call Max. As the facilitator of the AAR, Max  helped the participants from the HR, IT and Business Unit review what they expected and what actually happened during the previous months’ induction process for a group of new staff and enabled the catalogue of difficulties in getting access to email accounts, electronic management systems and remote working to be fully understood. Because of his skilled facilitation, within an hour, the negative energy between the teams had been replaced with the motivation to fix the problems within their control and escalate the ones that weren’t.

The AAR Conductor’s role is to facilitate with the intention of helping others to learn and work out solutions from themselves, yet this activity is one that you can’t help but learn from yourself as an AAR Conductor and so it was for Max.  The insights generated during the AAR into the fragmented on-boarding process within his BU, stayed with him and meant that he asked questions of other BU Directors at the next directors’ meeting. He found out that one of them had recently developed and piloted a “Bible” for the new starters process which had significantly improved the experience of joining the company. This conversation then led to Max enabling the adoption of this process across the whole UK company.

Not a bad outcome for one hour’s learning in an After Action Review!  I like to think Friedrich Froebel would be pleased with this example of valuable learning from activity.

“To learn a thing in life and through doing is much more developing, cultivating, and strengthening than to learn it merely through the verbal communication of ideas.”