I love watching MasterChef, especially the amateurs’ competition. Since I have a strong interest in ‘learning by doing’, I am fascinated as we see the way in which the contestants learn and develop over the weeks.

I was fortunate to attend a recent ‘learning directions’ workshop led by Elliott Masie, during which he spoke about a recent survey of more than 1,000 employees in 50 companies by his organisation. In response to the question, “how do you want to learn?” all of the respondents said, “I learn by doing”. They reported that they learnt best when learning on the job and by watching someone else.

One of the key points Elliott made was the importance of learning through failure. He used the phrase ”fail your way to success’, which really resonated with me. MasterChef really demonstrates how the contestants learn ‘on the job’ and ‘fail their way to success’. Even those who exit at each round talk about how much they feel they have achieved and have learnt from the experience.

Learning by experience and doing

The competitors are shown how to do something as they watch an experienced professional chef prepare a dish in front of them. They then have the opportunity to practice it themselves. Their first attempt to cook the same dish themselves is in a relatively safe environment, when they cook the same dish for the judges. They then receive constructive feedback from the judges. The contestants reflect on this feedback before they apply what they have learnt into one of the ‘live’ challenges, when they cook in a real kitchen, or for external critics.

Throughout the competition, the judges support this experiential learning process, as they teach, mentor, coach, give honest and constructive feedback and assess performance. As one of them said to the contestants at the final stages ”we have pushed you, nurtured you, shown you how to do it, guided you and we know you can do this”. I would love to emulate the success the judges have in developing these individuals, pushing them to reach even higher goals, encouraging them when they see they are struggling, and continually building their confidence and competence.

It is interesting to hear during the interviews, just how much the competitors talk about learning. It is inspiring to hear frequent comments such as, “I’ve just got to keep on learning”‘, or that ‘”I have learnt so much over the past few weeks’, or “I’m trying to apply what I’ve learnt”.

Of course, the driver of being crowned the MasterChef champion is a powerful motivator, and not one we can generally match in day to day training activities. It does though make me consider the benefits of gamification, and enabling learners to have those intrinsic opportunities to experience success.

Motivated and enthusiastic learners, learning by doing, failing safely, excellent coaching, achieving goals – definitely an excellent recipe for training success.