Does industrial theatre really help learning?

When we look at corporate and adult training we find many frameworks and even many more products to choose from. One thing that we don't often find is a clear strategy and appreciation for the science and theory behind the chosen framework and style.

KOLB is regarded by many as the thought leader on the topic of modern experiential learning. His learning model, although not widely acknowledged, has become the most commonly used and or adapted of its kind. So much so that there is very little out there that is really new.

So before you ask, yes we have found that the KOLB perspectives describe what we are trying to achieve better than what we have been able come up with, and be really original. Kolb indentified four stages in learning: concrete experience, reflective experience, abstract conceptualization and active experimentation. His learning styles inventory associated various words with these four stages, for example (in the same order): feeling, watching, thinking and doing. He proposed that learning originated with experience.

The typical training environment starts at opposite ends of the Kolb model with describing the principles. Then the demonstration followed by an opportunity to try and do it. The process is concluded by the learning exercising on their own, often with an audit or observation. This would work well when dealing with knowledge that already known, if only by others in the environment.

But how can we better address the totally new knowledge, to learner and those around him or her. This is considered to be original creative knowledge, like that of the innovator or original thinker. We have found that addressing the issue of organisational culture, whether for goals of productivity or safety, we indeed need to find a way to initiate original or NEW ways of thinking.

This is where we have found such favour and success with using industrial theatre in the learning environment. The methodology of industrial theatre provides an active communication medium in which the learning program can start in the realm of feeling. Theatre is a powerful tool to communicate with emotion that has the ability to bridge gaps of language and socialisation. The Industrial Theatre tool is even more powerful in team based learning environments as we have managed to incorporate the art of storytelling through mystery and metaphor that connects with the cultural heritage of the audience.

It is through the emotional message and effective facilitation that the learner is then lead to reflect on the message before they are given an opportunity to respond in dialogue and discussion. I think that it was EE Cummings that wrote (it is) ‘always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question'. It is through discussion that the learner is challenged to process one's own abstract conceptualisation.

Finally, it is through the artful facilitation of an experiential learning activity, that the learner is given an opportunity to put into practice what they have discovered from the learning experience. This active experimentation is often the moment when we see lives change. This is the moment people speak of when they review their moment of learning.

There is nothing so exhilarating to us than the opportunity to participate in a moment of personal discovery. In such a moment, we have the rare privilege to witness a friend who has found a treasure, and will never be the same.


Robin Pullen, started Pumalo in 2005. He celebrates people from all walks of life having been exposed to the behaviour communication products and services of Pumalo. His vision is to speak hope to the heart and mind of men and women in their workplace, through to the community that they are a part of, because he can see a better tomorow starting today. That has taken him through experiential learning, industrial theatre, organisational behaviour management and motivational seminar...

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