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Immersive experience

Page history last edited by Norman Jackson 12 years ago

Immersion is a metaphorical term derived from the physical and emotional experience of being submerged in water. The expression, ‘being immersed in’, is often used to describe a state of being which can have both negative consequences – being overwhelmed, engulfed, submerged or stretched, and positive consequences – being deeply absorbed or engaged in a situation or problem that results in mastery of a complex and demanding situation. Being immersed in a challenging experience might be very uncomfortable but it is particularly favourable for the development of insights, confidence and capabilities for learning to live and work with complexity. It is also a state which is more likely to require us to use all of our ingenuity and creativity.


Immersive experiences happen at all scales and we can see within different areas of our lives like family, work, study, play and travel experiences that are themselves immersive in their own right. This is the scale at which educators might usefully focus their attention.


Of course I chose to throw myself into the maelstrom but we often find ourselves in immersive experiences that circumstances have created for us. In 1990 I changed from being a Polytechnic geology teacher to becoming an Inspector for geoscience education in the Polytechnics and Colleges. This change was accomplished through the most challenging year of my professional life trying to cope on a daily basis with stressful, demanding situations the vast majority of which I was ill-equipped to deal with. I was supported through the best induction, mentoring and coaching experience I have ever encountered but most of my learning was from experiencing the role, trying to do the job and learn how to do it at the same time. I felt immersed in a world I did not know or understand but somehow I began to know what to do and how to do it and I gained the confidence to do it. At the end of my probationary year I knew that I was a very different person. Not only did I have the confidence to do that job but the idea of fundamentally changing a role and an identity did not intimidate me any more. And that is the power of immersive experience. Another important lesson I took from the experience was seeing how an individual in an immersive situation can be encouraged and supported through it. My sympathetic, skilful and experienced colleagues provided me with good role models, guidance on professional actions and generously shared their tacit knowledge through stories of their own experiences. They also provided me with a continuous stream of feedback on my own performance so that I could judge how I was doing.


The third story I will use to illustrate my interest in the idea of immersive experience happened four years ago when I participated in a weekend residential course that aimed to help the 20 academics participating in the workshop to develop new creative facilitation skills. Over the two and half days we were exposed to four different techniques. We experienced being facilitated and then practiced facilitating ourselves in small problem solving groups. The intensive, highly social and emotional experience, engaged us as whole people and it had a profound effect on many of us. I gained feedback from several who felt that they had been transformed by both the intensity and richness of the experience. Over half the group committed to adapting some aspect of their teaching and joining an action learning network to create case studies describing their experiences which were eventually published in a booklet. Through this process I became convinced of the value of this type of immersive experience in the training of experienced professionals. Sadly, experiences such as these are few and far between and even when they are there we rarely find the time to engage with them.


These stories illustrate some of the important features of immersive experiences that lead to personal change and perhaps above all help us develop that most important disposition – the will to be and to be part of, the will to learn, the will to be open to new experiences and the will to explore the possibilities of the unknown. You can find out more about our work on our immersive experience wiki.


Work in progress: here is some initial thinking on the idea of immersive experience.








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