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For real learning, tune into Bake Off not the Apprentice

9th Oct 2015
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I can’t believe it’s over! Along with around 14 million other Britons I watched as Nadiya Hussein was crowned Great British Bake Off champion.  I have followed most of her journey and the trials and tribulations of the other bakers as they struggled with signature bakes, technical challenges and showstoppers.  I shall miss the tent, Mel and Sue, Paul Hollywood’s scouse sex god routine and Mary Berry’s verdicts – delivered with true country show hauteur. 

I won’t just miss it because its Wednesday evening slot is to be filled by the appalling pantomimic presentation of business otherwise known as The Apprentice. I’ll miss it because the Great British Bake Off tells us more about learning than just about any other programme on TV (and certainly more than Lord Sugar’s search for an overblown ego in a shiny suit.)

Great British Bake Off had it all.  Tasks of increasing difficulty.  Spaced practice which favoured those who had made the most effort in between sessions to plan and prepare.  Expert feedback – not always what people wanted to hear but objective and factual – focused on things which could have been better, different, more expertly done - things which were under the control of the individual. Mel and Sue became facilitators, positive, encouraging, consoling and supportive. 

Most importantly of all there was observable improvement.  Those who improved the most, made the final.  Initial favourite, Ian, was head and shoulders better than everyone else in the early stages because he was the most meticulous in his preparation.  But other bakers learned not only from their own experience but also from how Ian became star baker three weeks in a row. Everything which happened around the more successful bakers was converted into learning.  Feedback given to one informed the performance of others. Bakers even collaborated – despite the dough eat dough competition – and one individual’s disappointment became the fuel for another’s improvement.

Skills learned in one context were transferred to new situations.  Technical challenges requiring mastery of a technique never before encountered, required each baker to dredge their memory for something similar and capable of adaptation. This was not always successful. Remember  Alvin’s triangular Pitta breads when he confused the Mediterranean flat-bread with a Samosa?

When faced with opportunities to develop new skills at work does any organisation provide that kind of support, that kind of challenge, that kind of planned exposure to new experiences?  Does any organisation facilitate learning from mistakes, from failure and from feedback?  I fear it is an experience unavailable to most of us. If we are seeking to develop new skills, to push ourselves, test out our hunches and creativity we are often stymied by encouragement to play safe, to do the same as before, to take fewer, if any, risks.

What emerges from the Bake Off tent is not simply the emotion of winning, losing and amazing experiences.  What emerges is learning and growth.  While Nadiya Hussein, a Muslim mum from Leeds, may have won the competition and a good many admirers, everyone learned – about baking, about themselves and about their own ability to grow and develop.

Will the bumptious brashness of The Apprentice deliver such a life affirming learning experience?  I seriously doubt it.  

Robin Hoyle is a writer, trainer and consultant. He is the author of Complete training: from recruitment to retirement. His new book: Informal Learning in Organizations; how to create a continuous learning culture is out now.

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By suebeatt
09th Oct 2015 16:21

Very interesting take on it Robin and thought provoking.

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By Robin Hoyle
09th Oct 2015 16:23

Good to know I prompted a new way of looking at cakes.

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