In the post last week, we took an inspired look at risk – which is central to the task of moving a team or an organization toward a holistic 5Q approach to being the Body of Christ. Moving forward in The Faith of Leap (which you should read today, btw), we are going to continue to reflect on risk, specifically, the role expeditionary learning has in mission and innovation. What systems are already in place that will help learning become the transformative act of creation that it is meant to be?

How can expeditionary learning change the way you experience growth and innovation in your faith community? We explore that and more in this article. Click To Tweet

Peter Drucker said that people who don’t take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year, and that people who do take risks generally make about two big mistakes a year. If he is right in this, then why would we not be people who take the risks? At least we will learn from failure in the process. If we never risk failure, we will never succeed—even in the smallest things. We do well to remember the parable of the talents in this regard; it ends with this warning: “For everyone who has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him” (Matt. 25:14–29). Surely it’s better to spend whatever gifts we have been given by God in faithful risk-taking than fearfully hide them away. If we fail, at least we will fail faithfully and not fearfully.

All this raises the role of liminality in learning and education. [In] Lyng’s seminal book on the sociology of risk, Edgework, the authors describe a certain kind of knowledge available only at the edge, or in our language, in the liminal space. It’s the kind of learning that can occur only in more extreme contexts and is pretty much captured in this quote from American novelist Louisa May Alcott: “I’m not afraid of storms, for I’m learning how to sail my ship.” The storm is an essential element in learning how to sail a ship. It is also perhaps the reason why, for instance, the Grand Prix competition is the primary seedbed for innovation in auto-engineering. The liminal contexts of learning provoke new insights on old themes. This “edge” intelligence is sometimes difficult for edgeworkers to describe, largely because it is so experiential, but it yields conceptual insights that cannot be gained otherwise. Kurt Hahn, the great educator, understood the importance of liminality for edgework when he pioneered what is called “expeditionary learning,” a form of education that has been used to develop people of all ages and in every continent. Expeditionary learning uses adventurous (liminal) experiences to create situations of learning, and so the principles are useful for us here.

The primacy of self-discovery: Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. In the situations created by expeditionary learning, learners undertake tasks that require perseverance, fitness, craftsmanship, imagination, self-discipline, and significant achievement. A teacher’s primary task in such situations is to help students overcome their fears and discover they can do more than they think they can.

Learning happens best with emotion, challenge, and the requisite support. People discover their abilities, values, passions, and responsibilities in situations that offer adventure and the unexpected. Click To Tweet

Generating and testing viable ideas: In situations of liminality and risk, innovation inevitably occurs. Here the role of teaching is to foster curiosity about the world, creating learning situations that provide something important to think about, time to experiment, and time to make sense of what is observed.

The personal and social responsibility for learning: In liminal situations we discover that learning is both a personal process of discovery and a social activity. Everyone learns both individually and as part of a group. Every aspect of the learning process encourages both participants to become increasingly responsible for directing their own personal and collective learning.

Empathy and caring: Liminality creates the conditions where people learn to have each other’s backs. Learning is fostered best in communities where learners’ as well as teachers’ ideas are respected and where there is mutual trust. Expeditionary learning promotes the extensive use of small groups and personal mentors while in the situation of adventure.

Learning from success and failure: Because the situation places the learners at risk, they learn vital lessons from failure as well as success. All students need to be successful if they are to build the confidence and capacity to take risks and meet increasingly difficult challenges. But it is also important for students to learn from their failures, to persevere when things are hard, and to learn to turn disabilities into opportunities.

Success is only one side of learning. It is also important for students to learn from their failures, to persevere when things are hard, and to learn to turn disabilities into opportunities. Click To Tweet

Collaboration and competition: In expeditionary learning, individual and group development are integrated so that the value of friendship, trust, and group action is clear. Learners are encouraged to compete not against each other but with their own personal best and with rigorous standards of excellence.

Diversity and inclusion: Both diversity and inclusion increase the richness of ideas, creative power, problem-solving ability, and respect for others. In expeditionary learning, learners investigate and value their different histories and talents as well as those of other communities and cultures. Learning groups are therefore heterogeneous.

Learning from creation: A direct and respectful relationship with the natural world refreshes the human spirit and teaches the important ideas of recurring cycles and organic rhythms. Because they are in touch with real conditions of life and nature, learners become stewards of the earth and of future generations.

Solitude and reflection: Students and teachers need time alone to explore their own thoughts, make their own connections, and create their own ideas. They also need time to compare notes and share their reflections with others. The relative lulls in the adventure experience create perfect conditions for such reflective learning.

Service and compassion: All, teachers and students alike, are crew and no one is allowed to be a passenger—all are participants. Everyone is strengthened by acts of significant service to others, and one of expeditionary learning’s primary functions is to instill in learners the attitudes and skills to learn from and be of service to others.

All, teachers and students alike, are crew and no one is allowed to be a passenger—all are participants. Everyone is strengthened by acts of significant service to others. @alanhirsch Click To Tweet

We can all learn and develop in such situations, and the church can be more effective in developing disciples that can make an impact in their world!

Next week, we will wrap this up with a final article on learning and innovation in liminal context; how the factors discussed above can be applied to leading and learning in the community of faith.

You can find the first article in the series, “Burn The Boats: Why 5Q Is Worth The Risk,” here.
You can find the third article in the series, “The Next Four Steps On Your 5Q Journey,” here

Alan Hirsch
Alan Hirsch founder of Forge Mission Training Network, 100 Movements, and now 5Qcollective. He is author of numerous award-winning books on movements, organization, and leadership, and teaches extensively across North America, Europe, and Australia.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.