So (you ask) where is the connection between learning, performance improvement and snow skiing? Terrain-based learning may offer L&D some new ways to handle challenging training situations. I learned to ski when I was 40 and tossed onto the bunny hill in the midst of many others trying to not fall or crash. A lot of information was told to us, terms unfamiliar in the midst of the steepest hill ever (or so I thought!). Then we were launched into the wild and tried to avoid each other while dealing with tools (strapped to our feet and wrists) never before seen or felt. Imagine the chaos, do you think anyone knew what they were doing or how they managed to avoid bloodshed and injury? Heck no!
So let’s fast forward to this new technique, terrain-based learning. Instead of starting on the steepest hill laughingly called the bunny hill, new skiers are taught to respond to the feel of various terrain features in a primarily flat space. So instead of facing down a hill filled with the fear of falling, and failing, the new learner can focus on the new tools in a safe, calm environment. Instead of learning how to slow and stop before learning any other skill, skiers are taught to shift balance, feel their edges, and respond to the snow while they are relaxed. In other words, it’s all about responsive skiing instead of defensive skiing. Emotionally the new learner is safe, secure and not in a panic mode becasue they are able to think clearly and focus on the tasks they need to perform.
Let’s take this to the workplace. There is a lot of research that shows that social and emotional well-being can directly influence performance and outcomes. When we are in tune with our emotions, we pay attention to the right things and make sound decisions; when we fail to manage our feelings, our thinking becomes impaired. So when you move skiing from dizzying heights to a safe environment the person is able to think clearly. So creating a safe place to learn improves the individual’s mindfulness. This is key to creating the link between how our body and brain respond to stress, possibly strengthening connections in the prefrontal cortex and reducing reactivity in our limbic system, supporting self-reflection and self-regulation. These functions play a critical role in learning, memory, and retention.
So skiing and work are very similar and how we create the initial impact of learning can create the level of desired performance sooner and with higher levels of confidence. Create the place where guidance is provided at the time of need, where support is normal, and practice is encouraged and fun and you will see a person move from newbie to someone who can confidently focus on productive tasks, continue to be engaged and motivated when work becomes demanding, and to handle the frustrations of sharing, learning, and communicating with peers. Learning the terrain of the hill, or the workplace, will teach you to become a skier, not just how to ski. See you on the slopes!