In search of alternatives

Ręka trzymająca lupę, w tle książki

When I discovered Kolb’s cycle, I felt like I already knew everything about non-formal learning. Experience combined with practice, reflection, theoretical underpinning, and internalisation – seemed the ideal framework for carrying out almost any didactic process, and certainly, one that involved changing attitudes (see knowledge, skills, attitude). Hurray! Now the trainer’s life was going to be simple. The workshop training formula I got acquainted with provided clear guidelines, and a safe and predictable framework within which the coaching work was to some extent predictable.

And then it only got more interesting. Social and digital changes, especially those related to the use of new media, have significantly increased the pace of life – and with this, the traditional 2-3 days workshop format, where the Kolb cycle or group process can be used, has started to lose its appeal. The forced digitalisation of communication and training processes associated with the 2020 coronavirus outbreak has added its two cents. So while looking around for alternatives and searching for new trends, I came across some interesting experiments.

Dialogue in the dark and dialogue in silence – partial sensory deprivation

Although not new, Allianz’s Dialogue Training Centre (DTC) caught my attention. The centre was established in 2009 by Allianz Global Investors AG under the care of Dialogue Social Enterprise and offered two types of training: dialogue in the dark and dialogue in silence.

Dialogue in the dark is a training session conducted in a room without light by blind and visually impaired trainers, who are the guides of the group process, assisted by a coach. Dialogue in silence involves working in a soundproof room assisted by a deaf trainer, where communication takes place through facial expressions and gestures. In both of these contexts, the participants are deprived of the use of some of their natural cognitive resources, which, in a group work situation, effectively leads them to engage in the training process, so that, according to the programme supervisors, they learn faster and more effectively.

In both cases, participants were observed to have a greater authenticity of participation in the training, empathy and openness, as well as an increase in trust and natural development of leadership skills. Many non-disabled participants do not function in complete silence or complete darkness on a daily basis. Such a situation simply takes the participant out of their comfort zone – many of us are simply afraid of the dark or feel uncomfortable in it, to say the least. Under these conditions, building a children’s train track from available parts that you can’t see, when you can only touch your parts – takes on the character of a real challenge.  In such circumstances, according to the DTC tutor, participants learn more quickly and effectively about themselves, their behaviour and the behaviour of others. Interestingly, after experiencing success working in complete darkness or silence, by the next workshop the darkness or silence no longer seems so strange to the participants but is just an additional circumstance through which they can get to know themselves and the team better.

Both methods were tested on Allianz’s top managers, who were then keen to return to the centre with their teams. What is puzzling, however, is that while the centre was established in 2009 and quickly trained 1,300 people, nothing more can be found after the 2012 articles.

READ MORE: Change of perspective: Employees learn in the dark and in silence


A consistently active and thriving form of engagement and learning is games and gamification. As trainers and coaches, it is familiar to us primarily from the training room as a form of conducting training modules, in large or small formats, on boards or using online applications, i.e. the well-known Kahoot or the recently gaining popularity Genially.  In the world of private companies, however, the toll is being taken by companies introducing gamification in the form of computer-based games run on dedicated, proprietary, often uncomplicated platforms. There are more and more of these companies in the Polish market, and they are getting better and better. Why?

Game developers and bloggers agree that, firstly, the number of people playing online computer games is growing, and secondly, a generation that grew up with computer games, with well-developed basic digital skills, is now entering the job market. For them, the world of competition, scoring points or reaching the next level of development is familiar, and the gaming environment is something completely natural.

According to Paweł Tkaczyk, author of a book on gamification, gamification is “injecting fun into things that are not fun for us.” By having fun – pleasing aesthetics, competition, and a good background story – it is possible to effectively engage participants in the learning process and, by using mechanisms that motivate and maintain engagement, to extend the process by adding further components.

READ MORE: Paweł Tkaczyk – Grywalizacja

The participant’s engagement is maintained through specific mechanisms such as points, badges, levels, or challenges.  These are mechanisms from the world of games used in the real world. Often, however, correct mechanisms alone are not enough. This is when HCI – Human-Computer Interaction psychology – comes to the rescue. HCI is about good storytelling, design and in-game elements that play together to stimulate our emotions and intrinsic motivation, as key components to the success of the game and the learning process itself.

 How to stimulate intrinsic motivation? Experts advise the use of three elements, i.e. competence development (skill mastering), in-game autonomy and character attachment. Without them, according to Vicki Kunkel of the Training Industry, even the best mechanically developed game will fail.

READ MORE: Interaction psychology – why characters, clicks, points and badges don’t translate in e-learning

The entire educational process in gamification aims to modify behaviour in line with the training objective, including the acquisition and aggregation of knowledge and the building of expected habits. As the owners of Westhills, a developmental delivery company that combines the world of the training room and online gamification, neatly call it – gamification translates the employer’s objectives into those of the employee.

How are online games designed? They are primarily based on micro-learning, i.e. transferring knowledge in small portions using infographics, videos, and charts – in an expert or animated manner. Micro portions of knowledge, recalled from time to time (e.g. after 4 hours, 24 hours, 3 days, 7 days and again) consolidate the acquired knowledge and prevent player-employee overload and discouragement while counteracting the forgetting curve.

LISTEN TO: Arek Siechowicz o grywalizacji i microlearningu – HR espresso – Jarek Jarzębowski, Odc. 19

As it turns out, games have a relatively wide range of applications – allowing you to train leaders and managers, deploy staff or conduct time-consuming research with reluctant students. Training can be national or international, and the game can be played in unrealistic conventions such as a trip to space or simulating the offices and branches of an actual company. There are many possibilities.

READ MORE: Gamification

Adaptive learning

Increasingly, games embedded on platforms use modern algorithms that allow people to learn at their pace while maintaining competitiveness. This aspect of training is called adaptive learning and uses machine learning. Adaptive learning mechanisms examine the user’s preferences – i.e. which forms of information delivery they choose (whether it is a video, comic, infographic or e-book, etc.) and then check how effectively the knowledge has been assimilated. Recommendation mechanisms are used, but also repetition, all for the megatrend of personalisation.

LISTEN TO: Sztuczna inteligencja w HR? O Adaptive learning z Arkiem Siechowiczem – HR espresso – Jarek Jarzębowski, Odc. 20

There is no doubt that gamification is a fast-growing field and an attractive training technique, although it requires an investment of time, money and technological know-how combined with the basics of psychology to put it into practice. However, as the trainers point out, while gamification is great for micro-learning, it does not directly compete with the form of a workshop conducted with participants live in the training room. The two formulas respond to different needs and use different tools, achieving different (non-divergent but different) objectives.

Transformational learning

A reflection on the traditional form of training can be found in the article “Two types of training” in the UK HR Zone forum, where author Mark Walsh distinguished between transactional (“traditional”) learning and transformational learning. Walsh argues that in transformational learning, that is, learning designed to lead not to periodic but to lasting change, intellectual understanding alone is not sufficient. Here the key is experiential learning, but not understood in the context of Kolb’s cycle, but learning by practising (not in the training room) over an extended period. According to Walsh, rapid change is not possible, no matter how intensive, comprehensive or interesting the training is.  And he cites the words of Malcolm Gladwell, whose view is that it takes a person an average of around 10,000 hours to build expertise in a given subject. In Walsh’s view, therefore, the key to transformational learning remains practice, a supportive environment and support in the culture of the organisation – so that the change being introduced has a chance of being sustainable.

READ MORE: Two types of training, autor: Mark Walsh


Analysing the individual ideas for guiding educational processes, one can see that they come from different fields and different contexts, and some of them are particularly original. Is teaching in the dark or silence possible in the training room? Despite appearances, creating the conditions for such work may be simpler than we think. Could we apply gamification to education in the third sector with the panache that business does? If we don’t have our tools, platforms and technological know-how, maybe we can try to apply for CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) cooperation and invite the company in question to collaborate. Finally, isn’t it worth considering the implementation of training as part of a larger cycle to introduce change in the organisation by introducing “practical activities” (practice after training) to increase the chances of adaptation and consolidation of the change?

There are many possibilities. You just need to reach out to them.

Author: Anna Skocz
Translation from Polish: Anna Motwicka-Kaczor
Polish version: W poszukiwaniu alternatyw

Translation of educational material financed as part of Skrzydła dla STOP project from the funds received from NIW- CRSO under The Civil Society Organisations Development Programme for 2018-2030 CSODP (PROO).