What is Immersive Learning? | Matthew Farmer | Founder & Managing Director, Emerging World
Welcome to another episode of The Brand Called You vodcast and podcast show that brings you leadership lessons, knowledge, experience and wisdom from 1000s of successful individuals from around the world. I'm your host, Ashutosh Garg and today I'm delighted to welcome a very, very accomplished professional from Wales, UK. Mr. Matthew farmer. Matthew, welcome to the show. Thank you. Matthew is the founder and managing director of Emerging world. So Matthew, before we talk about Emerging
world, tell me a little bit about your own journey. In brief. Yeah, for sure. Thank you. Thank you for asking. Well, I guess in many ways, when when I think about that, my business Emerging world is quite wrapped up into into that, because I think I had a an experience back in 2001, I was traveling around the world having sort of finished or taking a pause from my first career before I undertook an MBA at ESA business school in Barcelona, and I wanted to travel and sort of expand my horizons before before undertaking the MBA, and I found myself in Mexico. And one of the things that I wanted to do when I was traveling, besides to learn a language and scuba dive and do lots of other exciting things, was to do something kind of worthwhile. With a charity, I had no idea what that looked like. But I wanted to do some form of service. And I ended up
in Mexico, working with a small organization that was providing loans to groups of women in sort of semi urban areas of of Mexico, right, using something which is much more familiar now is a term with microcredit, and microfinance. And I found myself volunteering with this organization for six weeks with the task of helping this organization understand how and if they would ever break even that was the basic mission. And they experience in the end sort of changed changed my life. So
I, I, it was a challenging experience, it was stretching, but it was ultimately very developmental, and it was very rewarding. And it sparked in me, the idea that it would be possible to set up an organization that provided opportunities for people with more skills and more talents than me to go and use their skills to help different small businesses and nonprofits around the world. And that's, that was a seed of the idea. So, so in many ways, yeah, my life, I suppose, is up to that point from a working point of view. And then from that point forward, amazing, amazing. So let's talk about emerging world. Tell me a
little bit more about what you do here. Yeah, so emerging? Well, the easiest way to describe it is in terms of how we work with our clients. So our clients are typically large global organizations. And we provide experiences to their people, in which they use their skills and broader life experience to support other organizations usually in different parts of the world that are addressing particular areas of social concern, social or environmental concern. So that might be a group of people on a talent program in a technology company going to India or an African country and working with local nonprofits and government organizations, or might be an individual could be based anywhere in the world, Singapore, for example, going over and working and using supporting a marketing plan, for example, for an organization in North America. So those are the kinds of experiences but companies will typically do them with three drivers in mind, those three, three areas of value. One is about the development of their people,
typically, they're the leaders, maybe senior leaders, and maybe more junior leaders, or they do it as part of an employee engagement and community impact drive. So it might be some form of skills based corporate volunteering Initiative, or else they will do it. And this is a more sort of nascent area of our work as part of a drive to increase the diversity, inclusion and belonging that exists and manifests within their organization. So yeah, so that's probably the easiest way to sort of describe what we do and our role is really to facilitate all of that and to make that happen and And you also talk about immersive learning. How does
immersive learning plug into emerging world? And help me understand how you define immersive, immersive learning? Yeah, brilliant, thanks. Thanks for the question. So I think, um, you know, we use the the idea of immersive learning to characterize an experience in which you are immersed, had heart soul in a particular experience. And, and the impact that that can have on you, as an individual. So in huge amounts
of our work, people are working on real problems and challenges that are being faced by other people. And in order to be successful in in supporting those other people with those particular challenges, you really have to step into their world, it's not enough just to listen, or to hear or to observe, when you start rolling up your sleeves and actually working on other people's challenges. It's a different level of empathy and understanding that you develop, but also need to be able to develop to be successful in that particular work. So, so we talked about the
power of the potential of that experience to shift the way that people think. So to, they may take on a new mindset, a different way of thinking, they may see things that they hadn't seen before, they may see and understand things about themselves that they hadn't appreciated, when they're in their sort of normal day to day environment. And it's those kinds of experiences, from a personal point of view, that, that we try and accentuate direct and support through the experiences that we provide. And when you talk about, you know, the immersive learning, having the power to our potential to help leaders make fundamental shifts, help me understand this and give me an example if possible.
Yeah, um, so I guess it's that profound whole body experience that we, we believe, creates the shift for somebody. And it's quite hard, often to, to shift in your normal day to day, you know, you're too busy, particularly when you're working for a large company to really change perspective to really see things differently. So if you can create a space, and you can do it virtually, but even better, if you can do that in person, in order to open people up to those possibilities, and help them discover those things, then that can be really profound. So, you know, an example that comes to mind is quite, quite recent, because I just recently heard back from an individual, we had a particularly senior finance professional inside Microsoft. And that individual had gone to Peru as part of a cohort experience that we designed for an executive development program. And the experience, I
think, really shifted just the way that he thought about developing in emerging markets really helped him think differently about the kinds of solutions that will work in that kind of environment. And actually, this particular individual was was of Indian origin. And so it's not that that kind of context would be unfamiliar to him. But having
worked for a large global corporation for a substantial period of time, and be very much focused with this is how we do things in North America, as well, as a North American headquartered global company, the idea that consumers, the business operating environment, might be different in a different environment. And the way to deal with that would require different ways of thinking was really mind opening. And we, you know, we heard from a few a few months afterwards, about the experience and you know, talked about it in very positive terms, this this experience about 10 years ago, and he mentioned to a colleague of mine just the other day, how that experience had really shifted and changed the way that he looks at things and subsequently went on, became a CEO of a company, took it to IPO moved on now advising several business schools in the US on on what their curriculum could be. And so it was really interesting to hear that that paradigm shift and still structure them. So that's one example. You know, very much about the market. So the place where the individual
is, but sometimes it's more fun than employments like about sort of more fundamental in terms of how you show up about who you are, how you engage with other people, which in your day to day, tasks can be quite hard to change or to shift, you know, just things are done in the way that they're done. But when you're in a different context, working with different people, then the idea that you might ask different kinds of questions that you might need to take a backseat rather than taking a driving role is really quite profound for people. So yeah, does that makes a lot of sense makes a lot of sense. And my next question,
therefore, is that what are some of the more effective technologies and tools that you are using to create immersive learning experiences? Yeah, fantastic. Well, I mean, yeah, up until the pandemic, then 95% of the experiences that we facilitated or helped to facilitate, would have been had a fundamental, impersonal element, and then clear for a couple of years, that was pretty much impossible. So we transitioned all of our work into virtual experiences. And so with our focus in virtual experiences is sort of taking people out to go and see and be exposed and immersed in different environments, is to really bring the outside in. So how do we use platforms like this, like zoom, or teams or things like mural mirror to create an experience in which we can bring in outside into a particular space. And so that's been a focus of our work over the last couple of years. And now, you know, we've got a
blended hybrid experiences that cover, you know, the virtual and an impersonal environment. So that's, you know, that's the sort of practical technology. But I think, from our research, and we do sort of cross Company Research, and have been doing for the last sort of 10 years or so, what's really interesting from that is that it's what happens after the experience, right? That is often the primary contributor to the effectiveness of that experience, from a participant point of view. So when an individual comes back, having had a profound experience, it's very tempting for a company to say, brilliant, you've had that experience, lovely now, so let's get back on with stuff. And that individual might have a lot of passion and a new way of looking at things. But unless the company does
something to support them, listened to them, provides opportunities, perhaps, or fertile ground, at least on which they can apply that learning. And perhaps that individual is supported to implement that learning in an appropriate way, then line managers or external coaches, whoever it might be, then yeah, a lot of the value of that experience can be lost. So yeah, the tempting thing is always think about preparing for the experience and having the experience not thinking about what happens afterwards. But like, within any learning experience, unless you have the opportunity to apply it unless you can integrate it into your your work in your life, then, you know, the value becomes very dissipated, sometimes there but it becomes quite, quite dissipated. Interesting. And what would you say are some of the challenges
that you are faced with when you get into an immersive learning? Immersive Learning Program for corporations or individuals? Yeah, um, so that's, that's the good, I'd say that the most difficult challenge is, is more about getting the full company aligned. undertaking the experience. So I think intuitively, if I was to ask you, for example, what was the what did you learn most from in your life? I'm gonna guess as your toughest, it won't be a training course, it'll have been an experience or some kind of situation that you've been putting I absolutely right. So what we're trying to do within within our experiences is give it give people those kinds of experiences, but But it's within a space that an organization might call a training or a learning program, or a corporate volunteering experience. And yet, there are ways that people think about these things based on perhaps their own education or their own experiences of courses that that make it difficult for them to comprehend that actually, this is a really effective way of of doing something. So you know, you'll
often get typical, sort of typical, and it's understandable as well, but just pushback from different stakeholders and organization saying, Well, you can't be away for a period of time and doing that or, you know, what are the core learning outcomes or why don't we use a business school with a really established name for doing this rather than, you know, a smaller consultancy, you know, because everybody knows INSEAD or, you know, Harvard, but you know, not everybody knows Emerging world, for example. So I think the bigger challenge is, is there. And then actually very when you're implementing the program, what you want to do is have that environment in place in the organization that supports the individual. So you know, you want, you need to get executive sponsor, he's already behind the program, you need program managers or your counterparts inside organizations that that really want to make this happened. Because it requires, you know, time, it's not just a plug and play theory, yeah, it's quite a customized piece. And
then you want to be able to support people right through the journey. And of course, you know, people's bias action. And to move on to the next thing means that you're not always supported to be able to have the space in the organizations that shift the mindset. So you're in this kind of, paradox of, in this complex world in which we're living, that what people really need is some space to be able to think differently about the kinds of challenges that they're facing in order to be able to address them in new and different ways. But a pressure to be able to do things really quickly, really fast and in the way that we've always done them, that doesn't really enable people to have that space. Well, and that's the tension that you're trying to manage.
So, you know, when you are trying to create a lot of these immersive experiences, do you see these new technologies like the metaverse actually being able to create incredible experiences for our avatars in 3d? No, I think it's a fascinating prospect, isn't it? I mean, it is a fascinating prospect. And if there are ways in which you can reduce the carbon that you're emitting by, particularly in experiences that require travel, you know, by doing something virtually, or you can enable people to have those experiences, you know, virtually in some shape or form. That's a, that's a wonderful, it's a wonderful idea. But what is I think, fundamental in our concept around immersive learning is that people are working on a on a real challenge and a real problem that has genuine consequences for for people. So at the same time is learning huge amounts about themselves. Part of the reason that's so compelling is you're
actually making a difference for people who want your help, and may well need your help and support. So Johnson and Johnson, for example, is one of the organizations we provide a massive commitment about supporting primary health care workers around the world. You know, the work that they do on their programs is compelling, valuable stuff that supports healthcare, people are very vulnerable and very marginalized around the world that compels people in our experiences, it gives them a real output that's worth fighting for. Now, simulations and virtual things can have a great way of helping to set context perhaps, or give people and understand maybe I could walk around a village in Kenya, in a virtual reality headset and get a sense of what the life is. But if I'm not working on a real challenge, that makes a real difference to a human's life. If I don't have that human connection with somebody, I don't think that experience is going to be correct.
Well said. And the other question that I had was that, do you see any ethical and privacy concerns associated with this kind of learning? Or not? Really? I mean, you know, yeah, not really, I mean, sort of, yeah, I sort of struggled to see what they were beyond the use of, you know, just needing to keep people's data safe. And I suppose I suppose as I think about it, there's sometimes a concern that if people in perhaps a position of power, are helping other people who have less power, it needs to be done in equitable terms. Otherwise, you're sort of perpetuating a power dynamic that might not be so healthy. One of the things that we try to do within our experiences is create, we have a principle actually around reciprocal learning. So the idea is that individuals go to
contribute their skills and experiences but they also go to learn and that puts the relationship that they might have with an organization that they're supporting on a much more equitable terms, because they're both giving to each other in that in that context, so you take away that, that side of things. That is some thing to be mindful of. And I suppose that that does have an ethical consideration that that's important. It's not apparently
obvious to some people that just say, Well, I just want to go off and do good, you know, my intentions are good. But they don't see the systemic context of of that. And, of course, there's been in the last of 10 years, particularly the term of, of white savior. So the idea of somebody from European or North American extraction going to somebody in the Global South, and helping them kind of what that sort of says, and what that looks like, and the sort of situation that that perpetuates.
So there's been a lot of pushback around that. And, yeah, I think it's something we've always tried to be cognizant of. But I think you're also, you know, you need to ensure that that you are attuned to this as well, and you're attuned to your own biases, when you look at this, or this stuff, I mean, there's, there's enlightened design might want to feel about the kind of work we do, we have to understand that, you know, my own life, my own experiences, and who I am and how I identify will impact, you know, the decisions I make, and the way that I look at the world. So, yeah, as as, as a, as a leader, myself, and in supporting other leaders to be able to have experiences that that support the kind of world that we we want to live in. We need to be open to those, those perspectives that challenge the way that we think, interesting. Time for one more question, Matthew, and this is for the many, many, many people who will listen to our conversation base based on your own, you know, amazing understanding of so many different types of learnings.
And having worked with so many different organizations around the world. What would you say are three lessons, you would want our viewers and listeners to take away? From your own learnings and from our conversation? Yeah, that's a good question. So So I think the first is about it's not about being curious, and being comfortable in not knowing the answer. So there's, there's a skill, I think, and
the quality that underpins that, which is around being able to lead with questions or understand how questions can take you forward. But people often feel uncomfortable, asking questions for all sorts of different reasons. So if you're uncomfortable with not knowing the answer, but you're curious, and comfortable and skilled at asking questions, I think that's a great quality that anyone can have. In a world that's changing so fast that the learning of the past kind of have to keep questioning whether it's still relevant for the future. So that's why I think the second speaks to the point we just spoke around, which is trying to talk your own biases, understand that your perspective is is a perspective and looking at the world, do what you can to educate yourself in the fact that to understand where your perspective is coming from, but to continually test and refine those perspectives, by listening to others understanding that you may be you may be different. Yeah. So I think that's the second. The third. For me, I
mean, it's cultural curiosity is is. I suppose it's something that I naturally have. So I think it's just so valuable and so rich, there are so many people that you can learn from. There's so many perspectives that are interesting. And yeah, culture curiosity, if you can foster that, inside of yourself, there's so much to learn and discover. So I think it's a great yeah, a great quality to have, in your opinion. And
yourself. And if if you don't have it, you know, see what you can do to to stimulate it. Fascinating. And on that note, Matthew and your three amazing
lessons, be curious, and be comfortable in not knowing the answer. This is an amazing statement, be comfortable, not not knowing the answer a powerful. Thank you. The second one, he said was you learn to understand your own perspective and keep testing your perspective by listening to others, and refining your own perspective. And third one talked about the culture of curiosity. There are so many
people to learn from. Thank you so much for speaking to me about your own journey about the emerging world. And thank you for speaking to me at such length about immersive learning.
Thank you again for being here. It's absolutely thank you. Thank you for listening to The Brand Called You videocast and podcast platform that brings you knowledge, experience and wisdom of hundreds of successful individuals from around the world. Do visit our website www.tbcy.in to watch and listen to the stories of many more individuals. You can also follow us on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Just search for The Brand Called You.