Learning about events through involvement and participation: The use of experiential and authentic learning experiences
Emerald Group Publishing Ltd.
School of Business and Law
Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to use an experiential learning model in an introduction to events unit/module in partnership with Sport Canterbury (one of 17 regional Sports Trusts, throughout New Zealand). During this unit/module students explored the creation and manipulation of an event experience and gained real-life hands on experience. Through their engagement in this process, students were able to acquire skills and knowledge that helped them experience the whole event planning cycle in planning, implement and evaluating an event. Experiential learning approaches are a valuable tool to overcome the knowledge-practice gap recognised in many vocationally orientated disciplines, including event management. Design/methodology/approach – This paper uses a mixed methods approach including an on-line questionnaire, a number of interviews with students enrolled in the unit/module a survey involving the evaluation of those involved in the events organised by the students and a review of critical reflection diaries, written by students. Findings – This paper highlights that an extensive range of event skills both personal and team based were acquired, developed and practised during the unit/module and students were able to relate the theory of event studies to the practice of managing an event. In particular students reported that they were able to utilise, record and reflect on their experience and adapt their learning to organising a real-life event. The experiential learning model used in this study resulted in students being actively engaged in their learning through involvement and active participation in an actual event, where they were able to apply what they had learnt in the classroom to the real world. The connection between theory and practice is therefore, pivotal and is a prevailing theme of this paper. Originality/value – This paper demonstrates how students of event management were provided with the skills and knowledge to run events, by personal involvement in a real-life event in a student centred learning environment. Students enrolled on this unit/module were made responsible for every aspect of managing the annual Rebel Kiwisport Challenge (a series of recreation based events held over a half day period for primary schoolchildren based in the Canterbury region). Balancing the theoretical input with the practical aspects of events in the introduction to events module/unit enabled students to become multitasking and as a result gain highly portable skills that will help them succeed in their future careers in events. Indeed, in a survey involving 1,100 employers in Australia Neilsen (2000) reported that the five most important skills needed for graduate employment were oral business communication skills, creativity, problem-solving skills, independent and critical thinking skills and flexibility. Similar research undertaken by Greenan et al. (1997) in the UK and Braxton et al. (1996) in the USA, report the same findings. Although, there is a dearth of literature in the social sciences on experiential learning, the same debate within event management education is sadly lacking and it is hoped that this study will help fill a gap in the literature.