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Being a “Learner” at ATÖLYE Academy

Published in ATÖLYE Insights · 7 min read · May 13, 2020

Why is it crucial to design a truly experiential learning journey?

Author: Zeynep Aykul, Learning Designer, ATÖLYEEditors: Melissa Clissold, Özgür Arslan Translator: Gizem Unsalan In-text illustrations: Aleyna Tezer

Editor's note: In March, we embarked on a new journey by launching ATÖLYE Academy - which can be considered a reincarnation of ATÖLYE's Learning Design and Organizational Design practices. Despite the practice's history, the "Academy" was a new area of exploration where we created a space for experimentation for our team, our community, and our "learners."

Over the years, our learning design team has augmented their practice with a constant flux of inspiration from a wide range of frameworks - from behavioral science to social design. David Kolb's "experiential learning" theory and its cyclical nature that fosters constant progress provided both a foundation and the capacity for ATÖLYE Academy to experiment on solid ground. Incidentally, ATÖLYE Academy's purpose of "unleashing the creative potential in people and fostering an environment where they can transform and thrive" also required such a ground.

Below, Zeynep Aykul Yavuz, Learning Designer at ATÖLYE Academy and Ph.D. candidate in Learning Sciences, lays down the foundation for how Academy's learning journeys are designed and demonstrates what this experience can bring about.

Participants in ATÖLYE Academy's educational programs, workshops, and events learn new methods and skills through experience, under the guidance of coaches and facilitators. Experience, and the transformation of experience - key components of David Kolb's experiential learning theory - are at the core of participants' learning journey at ATÖLYE Academy.

"Experiential learning forms the basis of ATÖLYE Academy's practice."

Our aim with Academy's educational programs is to offer experiences for individuals that far surpass everyday encounters. We seek to expand participants' points of view through the content and methods used, as well as to form a stronger connection between the content and methods by providing coaching support.


When we look at ATÖLYE Academy's offerings, we see that the root word "per-" (derived from the Latin prefix "EX-" meaning "from, out of" and the root "-perīrī" meaning "to put to test, attempt") is an important one. Experimenting is a central exercise, both for the Academy Team when designing learning experiences, and in terms of the experience we offer our participants. As a result, we believe that we can create a safe space for trial and error that enriches the participants' experience. Moreover, Academy's coaches and facilitators are experienced individuals who have field experience in creating designs that help combat real-life problems. Meanwhile, a significant portion of the content offered to participants is reinforced by real-life experiences that our facilitators have gone through regarding world problems and market requirements.

The Academy also seeks to help participants experience real-life problem solving so that they can firmly establish their newly acquired skills. Our experience in this area shows us that the new tools instilled in participants by experiential learning will help them solve different problems in the future, as well. That's because participants won't just learn the tools and their functions; they will also personally experience the scope, coherence, agility, and strategies of all the teachings.

The Importance of Interaction in Learning

"Interaction" is another factor that allows participants to influence one another during their learning journeys. We often see participants whose profound experiences in ATÖLYE Academy programs imbue them with new perspectives, enabling them to start reasoning more effectively. That's why we greatly value interaction, starting with the pre-learning period and further extending beyond the program.

When designing our programs, our facilitators seek to maximize interaction - both among the participants as well as between the participants, coaches, and facilitators. By assembling participants from different fields with varying points of view in the same space, we're able to expand and add variety to our approaches. Participants also have the opportunity to maintain their interaction with the ATÖLYE Academy community after completing the program, which enables them to sustain the impact of their learnings.

When you combine experiential learning with facilitators and coaches who have field experience, as well as the interactions among participants, the emerging model of these three components can be quite comprehensively described using the "cognitive apprenticeship model."*

Inspired by the building blocks of the cognitive apprenticeship model, ATÖLYE Academy's learning approach can be summarized as below:

Learning alongside expert facilitators and coaches with field experience

Facilitators utilize the cognitive apprenticeship framework to model their field experiences in learning settings and offer tangible examples to participants. Through these examples, they provide participants with the content, tools, and cognitive models that help them meaningfully decipher the concepts introduced.

Creating independent participants who can stand on their own feet

Facilitators and coaches support participants throughout the experiential learning process. The goal at this stage is to imbue participants with confidence so that they can effectively use the tools offered throughout the learning experience without the support of coaches or facilitators.

Trial-and-error outside the comfort zone

In the cognitive apprenticeship model, part of the experience is to ensure that participants cope with different ambiguities while both the content offered and the tasks assigned grow more challenging. This allows participants to learn different skills.

Educational programs that can adapt to participants' needs while motivating them

Throughout the educational programs, participants are asked to regularly share their motivations, concerns, and excitement - both as individuals and as team members. This practice not only boosts participants' awareness, but it also enables educational programs to be designed flexibly to cater to participants' needs.

A "community" for sustainable learning experiences

At ATÖLYE Academy, participants don't attend educational programs; they attend learning experiences that have been cyclically designed. The experience begins with an introduction to the Academy and continues even after the program finishes - through the community - where interaction is sustained both among participants and with the Academy. The cycle is refined through the addition of new cornerstones to learning experiences via periodical recommendations on educational activities, events, and content based on the developmental goals cited by the participants when joining the Academy.

The Post-Program Experience

Based on their preferences when entering the Academy, participants join a digital or physical community where they can put their newly acquired skills to practice. In other words, they flourish by joining a Practice Community as suggested by the cognitive apprenticeship model. The Academy not only ingrains participants with skills that are relevant in a constantly changing world, but it also creates a community where learners can collaborate to create change.

At ATÖLYE Academy, we provide individuals who feel the need to create their own learning experiences with opportunities to discover their creative potential. As we guide individuals on their transformation with our adopted learning approach, we aim to see individuals and teams pave the way for transformation in the communities where they live and the institutions they represent.

ATÖLYE's journey of exploration in learning, which took a new name and form in 2020 with "ATÖLYE Academy," was designed based on the approaches mentioned in this article.

What approaches do you employ to ensure that participants acquire new skills and reinforce existing ones in your educational programs?

Is the cognitive apprenticeship model applicable to the educational content you've developed?

How could we alter the model to accommodate different types of content?

How do you think the experiential learning approach and cognitive apprenticeship model adopted by ATÖLYE Academy can be adjusted for a world in which COVID-19 necessitates interaction via digital tools?

The Learning Journey

* Collins, A. Cognitive Apprenticeship.