Transforming your staff's potential

Saturday, May 14, 2011

A Renewed Appreciation for Self-Directed Learners

The lights are back on at Williams Instructional Design, having just returned from a three-week holiday on photo safari in Botswana. It was an incredible adventure, made possible by the highly knowledgeable, skilled and committed staff at each of the camps I visited.

Working at the safari camps takes a substantial personal commitment. Staff members work for 2-3 months straight, every day, for up to 12 hours a day to host their guests. Each team member performs multiple roles. For example: managers supervise staff, graciously host (and sometimes manage) guests, manage reservations and activity schedules, manage the gift shops, oversee logistics and repairs, etc.

I was most impressed, however, by our guides. They are responsible for all aspects of the safari activities. As a result, they must seamlessly blend a wide range of knowledge and skills every day, twice a day for the four-hour game drives for up to 10 guests each.

Like a ballet dancer, those most highly skilled are those that make the job look so easy. However, they must be thoroughly knowledgeable/skilled in: wildlife biology, botany, geology, conservation theory, animal behavior, astronomy, extreme driving, guest safety, first aid, tracking, nature interpretation, bar tending, hospitality, etc. Usually, this is all in a 2nd language. Batswanas' (the people of Botswana) first language is Setswana. All of the guiding is done in English.

To become a guide in Botswana, a candidate must pass a lengthy and stringent three-part exam, including guiding a National Park Ranger on a game walk. One of our fabulous guides actually had a master's degree in wildlife management from South Africa. Other had taken guide training courses. However, one guide trained himself independent of any educational organization.

Robert of Savute Elephant Camp in Chobe National Park, Botswana is my new self-directed learning hero. Excellent naturalist, guide and historian, Robert was also an amazing tracker, driver and host. His technical vocabulary and ability to explain scientific concepts in English was impressive. When I complimented him on this, he said he learned much from prior guests. Robert is truly a lifelong learner. I learned much from him, more than he realized.

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