Learning Tourism: expansive, enriching.

Kaospilots Art & Craft of Facilitating Learning Spaces course, Aarhus, 2014

Recently a trend has been coming to my attention, which I’ll call ‘Learning Tourism’. I started to do it myself a few years back, combining learning with travel, picking a course or conference that suited my learning needs plus was in a location I could have a little break in, to soak up a different place and culture. Since joining Hyper Island I’ve realised it’s not just me; a significant proportion of our short course participants come from far away for the courses; not because there isn’t one closer (there often is), but because they want something else from the experience: a bit of travel and a new experience. For example, we often get people from Brazil come to our courses in Stockholm to do a short course when the same one is run at our hub in Brazil.

I’m not including our longer term courses or Masters programmes in this, as it’s almost a given that we’ll get students from all over the world to these courses. The trend I’m looking at is in relation to those short courses or conferences you may spend your yearly training budget on; 2–3 days out of the office to ‘level-up’ in a particular area or get an injection of inspiration.

Serendipity engineering

By adding a bit of ‘tourism’ to your ‘learning’, quite simply, you increase the amount of new experiences you are likely have in that little window of time. By doing so, I believe you’re increasing your chances of serendipity; making connections with new people and expanding your world. In 2013 I started getting interested in the world of radical, alternative and creative business schools. I researched and read everything I could find about them, and decided I wanted to find a way to work in the area somehow, but had no idea of how yet. I started reaching out to the likes of the Kaospilots in Denmark and the Knowmads in the Netherlands, visiting the Knowmads for a day when I was on holiday in Amsterdam, and eventually doing a 3-day course at the Kaospilots in Aarhus. Over those three days, I hung out with two cool NYC women, Lisa and Kiely. We got on and there seemed to be a lot of affinity between both our work; I was at NixonMcInnes at the time, and they were working with companies with similar challenges through the business school they worked at, Hyper Island. In all my research I somehow hadn’t come across Hyper Island yet, and it turned out it was the most aligned as a school to my passions, values and experiences, and they also had a hub in London! Long story short — 3 years later I ended up joining Hyper as an effect of that initial serendipitous meeting.

Smashing the ‘package holiday’ of the conference

A few years ago some training I’d booked to go on in Copenhagen cancelled pretty last minute, right after I’d booked my flights and my airbnb for the trip. I remember wondering what to do; should I cancel the trip? Should I persuade a friend to join me and just have a holiday instead? Then — a friend said — why not still go, but meet some interesting people while there? He had a friend running an interesting social enterprise centred around bees he could introduce me to for example, plus I had a couple of people I’d met once or twice before who I knew lived there, and I could look up and spend some time finding out a little about their life and work in Copenhagen.

So, with a few emails sent, and my schedule filled with meetings and visits over the 4 days I was there, I set off on my little trip alone.

In the four days I was there:

  • I met with Oliver Maxwell (who happens to be a ex-Brighton dweller) and learned about his honey social enterprise Bybi. We visited his processing workshop and I helped out on his stall for an afternoon at the Nyhavn Christmas market selling the honey products;
  • I met with an old friend of NixonMcInnes, Alex Kjerulf, Denmark’s Chief Happiness Officer, and his partner Patricia to chat about the business of workplace happiness;
  • I took the train to Aarhus to visit the Kaospilots for the first time, to talk education and culture with some of the core team, meet some students and tour the school;
  • And I met with Ole Kassow, to chat about his company Purpose Makers. Or so I thought. Ole invited me to meet him at his family apartment, where I got to cuddle his bunnies and chickens in their little urban farm (anyone who knows me will know what kind of heaven this will have been for me), then… he showed me his then side project which was definitely the highlight of my trip: Cycling Without Age. Ole cycled (a then) 95 year-old Thorkild and I around the city on a cold but gloriously crisp and sunny Copenhagen afternoon, and as we huddled together under a red blanket Thorkild told stories of his life as we passed the remnants of his memories in the city, and he sang old, sweet, songs to us. It was without a doubt in my top 5 of favourite afternoons ever. Since then, Cycling Without Age has expanded globally, seeing thousands of young people taking out old folk on bike rides everyday. Amazing. See Ole’s TED talk (from earlier days of the project) here.
Thorkild and I being cycled around Copenhagen by Ole, November 2013

So, why am I indulging in telling you about my little holiday?

I feel like I accidentally stumbled upon a new format for an inspiration conference. I curated my own agenda, picked speakers, and got VIP access and first hand experience of their ‘content’. It was totally bespoke for me (having been curated by me), yet it was still full of pleasant surprises and serendipity. I learned loads, got super inspired and made some lovely connections. If traditional conferences are a package holiday, this was an off-the-beaten-track adventure.

How to create your own personalised adventure conference:

  • Pick a place to visit
  • Make a list of people you want to meet and projects you want to see there
  • Ask friends if they know anyone you should meet in that place and if they can, get them to intro you
  • Reach out via email / twitter / letter / pigeon etc. Ask if they would be up for meeting, and tell them why you’d like to meet them. Maybe even offer to come and help for a morning / afternoon / day at their work / project that you’re interested in — it’ll be more fun and informative if you get stuck in
  • Create your agenda for your few days. Be mindful to mix it up here — think about balancing time outdoors and time indoors, mix up the activities — brunch, lunch, going for a walk etc, and make sure you give yourself space to reflect every day — a couple of hours down time to yourself — not only will this help you recharge, it will help you ‘land’ any learnings from the time you have with other people
  • Book flights and accommodation and JFDI

A few learning tourism ideas

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