January 03, 2014

Lessons from Year One

The new year tends to bring on an onslaught of goals to be achieved.

But, there's something powerful in looking back before looking ahead. I enjoy unpacking everything the previous year brought, good and bad, and examining how it should shape and mold next steps.

As you can imagine, the Ei team and I learned a lot in this first year—far more than we can share in a short blog post. But, here are a few things that have surfaced as we look back:

Establish the why first: Learning needs intent. Without being in a learning posture, great lessons will simply pass us by.

Framework for Experiential Learning: Inspiration → Action → Reflection

Milestones: Experience needs a framework to provide guidance, context, and commonality. For us, these have come in the form of meetups/class times, three-month experiences, and our five core competencies.

Community: At the core of learning is community. Community is brought together by a common hope and working through adversity. These make individuals rely on resources outside of themselves, which expands our circles and creates a deeper self-awareness for everyone involved.

This requires vulnerability, honesty, and action.

For Ei, our community involves: Our students, facilitators, Board of Advisors, the student’s families, Ei Companies, and Connectors. I’m so grateful for these people. They are remarkable.

Exploration: Experiences are typically, though not always, shorter in duration. The goal is to connect with passions, make new discoveries, or identify the things you care deeply about. Valuable work can and ought to be completed during these endeavors. When we creatively solve problems with and for others, and reflect upon how we came upon those solutions, lifelong lessons are bound to emerge. Experiences accelerate exploration. Individuals get to the place of “loving their work” because they’ve seen where and how their skills can make an impact.

Authenticity of experience: It may be unfair to deem one experience as authentic and another as inauthentic. But, it seems that our most valuable and authentic experiences include a mix of risk, reward, challenge, feeling like a stranger, facing the unknown, and a some sort of finish line.

Validation: Experiences are not valuable without validation. They mean more when they’ve been validated by an expert and/or when they count for something (credit/units/certification/financial reward). People fear meaningless failure, getting off-track, and feeling left-behind. They want to be building towards something rather than missing out. This also goes back to having a community that is sharing the experience together.

Immersive Spaces: It is one thing to walk into a home. It is another thing to be a part of building a home. Experiences ought to emulate the latter. Rich experience engages the senses and invigorates emotion.

Telling Stories: Story is the most widely understood language. Individuals need practice shaping their vocabulary and talking about their learning objectives. It’s hard to feel lost or unsure when navigating new environments, systems, and an entirely new model for education. But, all of that changes when one is able to engage others with compelling stories of what they accomplished, who they met, and most importantly, how they changed in the process. This also further solidifies the student’s learnings.

Employers + Cues/Signals: In order for us to change higher education, we’ll need to change how employers see potential employees. They need cues/signals to know someone is a potential fit. When perusing 70 applications, it’s nice to see a high GPA and a brand name university. How do we create new cues that are widely adopted?

Alumni: Previous participants provide a certain confidence to new students. Like seeing faint foot tracks in the snow, there is a realization that others have gone this direction and made it. In the future, students will share grand stories, common lessons, and overall support for being a part of the school. More importantly, alumni want to continue learning with current students. We need to create a simple, helpful, and celebrated way for them to stay connected to Ei.

Of course, there are countless more. Stay tuned as we continue preparing for our next class and implementing what we’re learning into the future of Experience Institute.

Thanks for being here.


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