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Experiential Education Comes to San Miguel

By Ron Smith

An early pioneer of experiential learning was Kurt Hahn, a German educator who  believed outdoor adventure with personal leadership is the most effective way to learn. Since then, methods have improved with Ph.D-level research into experiential learning. The last 30 years have seen organizations embrace these programs to accelerate understanding in areas such as leadership, teamwork, communication, and decision-making. With a new challenge course in Los Senderos, Santa Fe Learning Centers now offers exciting programs in San Miguel de Allende.

Most of what we know we learned through play and natural consequences. You can attend a lecture-style workshop on leadership, but more effective than “telling” is to be with your team in front of a challenge. In real time you have to problem solve, communicate, build trust, and perform to succeed. Afterward, you debrief what happened and use what you learned on the next challenge. Lastly, you review all the activities: what worked and how you can apply it at school, in the home, or back at the office.

In a business, when you make a mistake, when you fail to lead, fail to get broad support for a change initiative, or when communication breaks down and poor decisions get made, then you lose sales and clients, and the entire organization suffers. The cost can be enormous. Why not make these mistakes in a “simulation” while having fun and challenging yourself? You can take some risks in a trusting environment where everyone is there to learn, to lead, and to try new strategies and tools. If you make a mistake, you learn without losing a client or damaging a relationship with a co-worker or family member.

Organizations today know that leadership and teamwork are not just catch phrases but real skills that can be learned and improved. Schools, corporations, nonprofit organizations, families, youth groups, governmental organizations, and substance abuse prevention programs all use experiential learning to be more effective.

Santa Fe Learning uses challenge courses, which have both high climbing events and portable “low” activities. We use these tools because they work. Multiple learning studies (H. Gardner) tells us that if you involve more of the senses in our educational efforts, the learning increases exponentially.

We just had a program for doctors and a father-son program. In a few weeks we have a women’s program facilitated by women for women. We also do large group summits that combine appreciative inquiry (D. Cooperrider) with experience-based learning.

The most rewarding programs are often the subsidized programs for nonprofit organizations such as CRIT/Teletón, Casa Alianza, and free programs for families with terminally ill children. The appreciation they express and the often-brutal honesty they bring to the programs is heartfelt and powerful. With scholarships and subsidies, we work hard to serve nonprofits and individuals in need.

Santa Fe Learning Centers is located in San Miguel de Allende and in Malinalco, Edo. de Mexico. On Facebook: Santa Fe Learning Centers and at


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