By Angela Sontheimer
Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg
Educational consultant John C. Huie is famous for explaining: “Experiential education is elusive, often paradoxical, a multifaceted jewel with ethical, aesthetic, spiritual, physical, social, and psychological dimensions, even cosmic dimensions. Psychological mountain climbing may be the right phrase for what we mean by experiential education.”
Here at the Lincoln Leadership Institute, we couldn’t agree more. In fact, experiential education is what we are all about.
The reason is simple: There is great value in learning emotionally, as well as intellectually.
That’s why we don’t just provide a direct knowledge transfer program about leadership. Rather, we bring leaders to the battlefield of Gettysburg. As we teach them about the lessons of the Civil War, they walk the hallowed grounds, gaining a visceral sense of what it might have been like for the generals who led the troops in 1863.
Leadership is learned on the ground
Our clients include executives from some of the nation’s top companies, and each year they come to us because the lessons of the Battle of Gettysburg resonate with them. They appreciate war metaphors and enjoy learning with other members of their team — and teams from other corporations around the country.
We call it a “transformational journey” for a reason. We want each participant to uncover their own leadership potential, just as Gen. Robert E. Lee and Maj. Gen. Joshua Chamberlain did nearly 150 years ago.
As we walk through Gettysburg National Military Park, participants learn new lessons using the four stages of the Theory of Cyclical Learning, famed researcher David Kolb’s holistic perspective combining experience, perception, cognition, and behavior.
Stage 1: In the first stage, individuals participate in a “concrete experience” (CE) – they trace the footsteps of Civil War leaders while examining the decisions and choices they made in 1863.
Stage 2: In the second stage, participants are called on to proactively reflect on their activities or experience through “reflective observation” (RO).
Stage 3: Then in the third stage of “abstract conceptualization” (AC), participants begin to form a model or concepts about what they’ve experienced.
Stage 4: And finally, in stage four, individuals begin to “actively experiment” (AE) or test in new situations what they’ve learned.
This series of actions – do, observe, think, and plan – is very effective in reaching adult learners no matter what their learning style is – whether it is feeling, doing, watching, or thinking about their experience.
Learning emotionally reinforces the intellectual classroom learning and helps make the lessons stick.
As the old saying goes, “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.”
About Angela Sontheimer
Angela is managing director of Lincoln Leadership Institute at Gettysburg, where she is responsible for overseeing operations, marketing, and curriculum design. She is a graduate of Gettysburg College and holds a master’s degree in leadership and liberal studies from Duquesne University.