A Case Study in Immersion: the Centre for Experiential Learning


The Centre for Experiential Learning (CEL) project was one of the most exciting projects I’ve collaborated on. The goal of the CEL was to teach business improvement skills in the South African mining context. The revolutionary aspect of the CEL was the way in which experiential, immersive learning practices were used. This was a project that was four years in the making and a brilliant team  took the project to fruition. While the idea was similar to many model factories, it was the first time that such a system had been used in the mining context in South Africa.

What were some of the principles used when we designed it?

Show not tell: The CEL is a truly experiential environment where participants are exposed to a typical mining scene with room for improvement and are then given the tools to optimize the scene. The scene is played out in real life,  with actual actors presenting the scenes. Participants work together and provide instructions for actors to optimize this process.

Use of narrative: having actors act out “scenes” lends itself to the use of stories throughout the experience. The narrative arc was made more compelling because we used stories real stories from the field. The use of real stories meant that the content is richer and mirrors participant’s real life experiences. I’m quite proud of the fact that we created true scenarios with more than one path.

Use of immersion:  We created a business improvement games using augmented reality. This was a multiplayer game with teams competing to finish the business improvement challenge in real life. This provided a solid learning experience.  In the days of social media, it’s quite easy to forget that groups of people provide a great deal of the positive aspects of real-life social experiences.

Mirror the implementation context: One of the biggest challenge with business improvement is not that practioners don’t understand the business improvement concepts, it’s that they find it very difficult to sell these concepts to their peers. Participants were not only expected to use these tools, they were expected to work in a group and instruct actors on how to use them.

Providing a low-tech option: I’ve written before that I think that low tech curricula can provide high educational value. The CEL team proved this by providing a paper-based experiential curriculum that could be used at mining operations. This curriculum used many of the principles discussed above.


NEXUS Planning MOOC: A Versal Review



I’ve recently been lucky enough to collaborate with Barbara Schreiner of the Pegasys Institute in creating a course entitled Integrated Water Energy Food Nexus Planning in the Context of Climate Change. Barbara and her team delivered a series of planning workshops in Kenya on Nexus Planning and, as capacity development is central to the institute’s mission, it seemed ideal to put this content in a MOOC  .

We had a number of criteria when choosing a LMS:

  • Accessibility: The purpose of the course is to disseminate courses as widely as possible. It was important to us that the format would be easy for participants to use.
  • Ongoing maintenance requirements: We didn’t want to commit the Institute to ongoing maintenance requirements. We also didn’t want to commit, in perpetuity, to hosting and LMS costs.
  • Ability to collaborate: Barbara wanted to be able to go into the LMS and edit content herself
  • Whitebranded: We didn’t want tonnes of distracting branding all over the place

Versal met all of these requirements well. It’s accessible, has a free option and promotes collaborating. Overall I think that it is an intuitive system that works well. It’s especially easy to structure the course using Versal.

However there are three major drawbacks to using this LMS

  • Limited formatting options: You can’t centre pictures. This is infuriating, and distracts from the overall look
  • It seems a bit clunky
  • Limited learner analytics: And I mean extremely limited. We are going to have to migrate the content to another LMS after testing our BETA version for this very reason.

Overall I’d recommend using Versal to an organisation, like the Institute, which is exploring the possibility of hosting MOOCs. Check out the course here and give me some feedback!