Posted: 18 Jun. 2019 05 min. read

Experience is the future of Learning

Interview with Dan Sleeman

As an educator and a designer, Dan Sleeman provides a new perspective to the concept of learning: we've been doing it all wrong.

Dan believes that traditional approaches to learning constrain creativity and critical thinking – as students apply structured methods and tools to things that shouldn't be structured. He visited Deloitte to host an Innovating with Impact session, demonstrating his proposed approach to learning, which better prepares students to work in a complex and ambiguous working environment. Following the session, we caught up with Dan to ask him a few questions, read on for our Q&A.

Anna Lindberg: How did you start your mission to transform learning?

Dan Sleeman:
It was somewhat serendipitous. A combination of seeing the potential for impact and seeing opportunities for innovation and change. I was already interested in the education sector, but through the lens of a generalist/humanities background. Early in my career I pursued an opportunity to work for an educational organisation and began to see what truly well-designed education could do – the impact it could have. I’ve also had some really bad educational experiences myself, so my natural entrepreneurial inclination went into 'solution mode'. I thought to myself, "how can this be fixed?!"

AL: What does the ideal learning experience look like?

An ideal learning experience is:

  • Collaborative and co-designed. Everyone in the room must have an opportunity to dictate the experience and shape their own learning environment.
  • Well facilitated. Someone who is skilled at leading group dynamics should coach and support participants – meeting them at their level, whilst challenging them to grow.
  • Experience-orientated. Students should learn by doing, not by listening. Tasks and activities should enable students to learn through failure too.
  • Challenging. Breakthroughs happen when students are faced with discomfort and vulnerability.

AL: Does this approach to learning prepare students for the workplace of the future?

We can’t teach people things that we can't yet conceive. Instead, we need to equip people with the skills they need to navigate the unknown on their own, and in teams. Educators need to facilitate and support the development of these skills and allow students to explore situations in unique, individual ways. Experience-based education happens to be an effective tool to do this, because much of the learning is not prescribed, and therefore provides opportunities for experimentation.

AL: Do you have any advice for educational institutions looking to redesign their learning journeys?

DS: Yes. Take a Design Thinking approach when developing educational programs, courses and experiences. That is, involve stakeholders (and yes, that includes students) in any learning design process – and seek to empathise with their needs. Identify problems that a learning experience may need to solve. And try to think creatively about what an ideal learning experience might look like. Collaboratively create this vision.

Far too often we continue to do things ‘because that's the way we’ve always done it’. Instead, we must be open to change and adaptation, iterating based on a continuous feedback loop. Feedback shouldn’t just be used for measurement and reporting, it should be seen as guidance for change and improvement. So be open to critique. Seth Godin talks about education needing to focus less on compliance and convenience – I tend to agree with this.

And finally, I would say that schools and universities need to break down barriers between disciplines to explore inter-disciplinary offerings. Future workplaces will centre around diversity and cross-functional teamwork. 

Meet our author

Anna Lindberg

Anna Lindberg

Manager, Innovation

Anna Lindberg is a manager within Deloitte’s innovation team. She is passionate about finding new and interesting ways to deliver value to Deloitte’s clients through innovative solutions. Anna is responsible for inspiring, educating and driving growth in Deloitte’s innovation community.