The best learning experience I ever had – Mike Collins

Next up in the guest blogging is Mike Collins. Mike works in the financial services industry supporting transformation projects through learning. You can find his blog here or follow him on Twitter

Mike has really gone to town and shares his experience of a track day and proves that video games are good for something!

So there I was, driving to Wigan in the Northwest of England at 7 am on a cold and damp Saturday morning, full of excitement and anticipation and if I’m honest a little bit anxious. My destination was Three Sisters Race Circuit and I was heading for a “Driving Experience Day“.

I’d never been on any sort of experience day and whilst my attending the day was slightly fortuitous (due to my dad not being able to read a calendar) I had picked my car, the Ferrari 360 Modena and was looking forward to the ‘drive of my life’

My own car is a Vauxhall Astra 1.7 SRi, it’s got a Brake Horse Power (BHP) of 108, top speed of 117 mph and does 0-60 seconds in 11.9 seconds. The Ferrari 360 Modena by contrast has a BHP of 400, top speed of 183 mph and gets to 60 mph from a standing start in a spritely 4.5 seconds; you can see why I was feeling a little anxious.

On arrival I registered and signed some disclaimer forms absolving the race track of any responsibility should I crash. I also took the additional insurance that would mean if I did have an accident; damage to the car would be covered and would not be my responsibility. I started to feel slightly more relaxed in the knowledge I was fully accountable for my actions and was insured ‘just in case’.

There was apparently going to be a short wait before I was called for the briefing session so I was encouraged to read the information pack as it contained “all I needed to know”. The pack was really useful, it had pictures and profiles of each car, a map of the track with details of each corner and hints and tips for getting round the track in one piece.

After what seemed like an eternity and having read the info pack cover to cover at least 3 times I was called, along with 10 other ‘wannabee Schumacher’s’, for the briefing. The briefing lasted 15 minutes and included

  • Sorting out who was driving which car
  • Handing out hair nets
  • A quick ‘drivers view’ video tutorial of the track
  • Signals / Signs that would be used
  • Weight distribution in the cars
  • Type of gears
  • Braking / accelerating technique
  • Steering wheel technique
  • The dummy drive

After the briefing, we were led out on to the track and the excitement levels went off the scale as we were greeted with the glorious sight below:

I collected my helmet and was taken to the ‘launch pad’ ready for the dummy drive. The dummy drive consisted of me and 3 others being driven round the track by an experienced driver. We were given a corner by corner commentary on racing lines (which were kindly drawn in bright yellow lines on the track), how the signs were used for braking, steering and accelerating and we could of course ask any questions we wanted as we were chauffeured around the track.

I was now ready……it was soon my turn and as I got in to the Ferrari I was greeted by a big smile and a handshake by Graham my driver. He asked me a few questions about my previous experience and whether I’d driven a car like the 360 before. I replied rather tongue in cheek and trying to crack a joke that I had completed over 400 driving hours on the Gran Turismo game and to prepare I’d done some laps in the Ferrari to ‘get a feel for the handling’.

I was quite surprised when Graham said this was a great thing and that Gran Turismo was a great driving simulator. In fact he went so far to say that other than drive the Ferrari, it’s the closest thing I could have done and by far the most realistic. Graham went on to explain he was an ex-Touring Car driver and had a successful career spanning over 20 years. He explained he was in the car to guide me round the track and his job was to ensure that I got the most out of my 6 laps in the Ferrari.

There I go…

There were already a number of cars on the track so after getting myself out there I used the first couple of laps just to get a feel for the handling, breaking and acceleration. It was made much easier for me by four things;

Racing lines – Bright yellow lines following the best racing line around the track

Brake Board – Before most corners there was a big black B on a white sign

Turn Board – At just the right time there was a big black T on a white sign

Graham – my experienced driving buddy

It was simple really, follow the racing line, brake as soon as you reach the B and then turn the appropriate way when you reach the T. Graham informed me that if I could follow these signs then I’d be up to speed in no time. He was right, after the first couple of laps I started to get more confident and started to speed things up. By my last lap I was doing close to 100mph on the straights and really throwing myself round the corners and accelerating hard out of every corner. It was fantastic and an exhilarating experience that actually only lasted 9 mins 32 seconds.

It was only after driving home (a bit slower in my Astra) that I started to appreciate what a great experience I’d just had. From start to finish the activity was well planned, slick and then structured in a way that would maximise my experience and reduce time to competence. Let’s recap;

  • I signed forms to say I was accountable and was insured against damages
  • I was provided with visual information packs to refer to
  • Short face to face briefing covering theory including video / demo
  • Real time observation and dummy run
  • Access to an experienced racing driver
  • Strategically placed signs and well placed lines of paint

 I left Three Sisters at 10.30am after arriving at 8am so in around two hours I was able to drive a 400 BHP Ferrari around a race track at speeds close to 100mph (without crashing).

 What I had effectively just experienced was a very well designed training programme and it’s worth looking at it in more detail as it’s the reason why I think I can call this my greatest learning experience ever.

 What did they do that was so great?

 Made me realise I was accountable but provided reassurance against the worst

  • Providing colourful informative hand-outs with key information
  • Face to face group briefing re-enforcing & introducing key information
  • Face to face group briefing signposting things to come
  • Real time observation on the task with detailed explanation
  • Provided immersive simulation (endorsed games based simulation)
  • Providing access to a friendly & experienced coach
  • Providing the freedom to apply what I’d learned
  • Provided effective just-in-time performance support

The whole experience was based around on-the-job learning and it was exactly that, an experience. There were no long lectures, no big workbooks or lengthy hand outs and NO multiple choice knowledge checks. Whatever you are looking to achieve that involves a transfer of new knowledge & skills then you can take the above approach as a blue-print for creating a great experience and to get people to a competent level as quickly as possible.

It’s this approach that allowed me to experience going 100mph in a super car about 1hr after I arrived at the track. Yes they weren’t teaching me to drive from scratch but as I relate this back to the workplace we aren’t teaching people to learn from scratch are we?

As LnDers, we need to enable our people to perform quickly and effectively therefore we need to provide approaches that give them this opportunity. We are building on existing experiences, knowledge and skills and then introducing new information & tasks, the way in which we introduce & structure this is up to us.

How can we apply this blue-print to our own design and get people to a competent level as quickly as possible. Using this blueprint, how can we get away from designing training courses and content and instead design solutions where people take away a great experience and the ability to do the job rather than a workbook?

2 thoughts on “The best learning experience I ever had – Mike Collins

  1. Great blog Mike. I really get a sense of your excitement and feeling of achievement. And I love the parallels you draw with our responsibilities for learning design in our worlds. I wish my “Flying Lesson” experience had been half as good as your driving experience – very little intro, no pre-reads, bored and disinterested instructor, token ‘walk-round’ of the aircraft… More of a sight-seeing trip than anything else, but I did get to “see my house from up here”, which was kinda cool. Sufficient to say, it didn’t light any fires for me, and I have no desire to pursue the experience any further to learn to fly. All the best in the new job.

  2. Pingback: The best learning experience I’ve ever had – the story so far… | Trainers Kit Bag

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