Tips and tricks for immersive learning from European Forum Alpbach 2023

This year’s theme, #BoldEurope, drew together leaders from business, culture, and science to collaboratively address pressing issues, spanning from Economic Sovereignty to AI Ethics, amidst the scenic Austrian Alps.

Close to 3,800 participants from nearly 100 countries, including 600 scholarship recipients, gathered at European Forum Alpbach in 2023.  

This event, established in 1945 after World War II, serves as a timeless international platform uniting thought leaders worldwide in their pursuit of global cooperation, innovation, and mutual learning.  

Daria Chekalskaia, representing the Edufication team, joined the Finnish delegation at EFA23 to dive deeper into European sovereignty, climate change education, and EU politics. 

One of my personal event’s highlights was the opportunity to meet exceptional young leaders, ranging from government representatives of Balkan countries to youth working within UN agencies and members of the EU Parliament. 

Notable encounters included discussions with Austrian President Alexander Van der Bellen, Belarusian opposition leader Tachanovskaya, Swedish author of ”Factfulness” Anna Rosling, Finnish expert Anu Bradford, renowned economist Sergei Guriev, and Sandrine Dixson-Declève, co-president of the Club of Rome. 

The event spanned two weeks, presenting the challenge of sustaining engagement. The first week featured seminars focused on targeted learning, while the second week brought forth panel discussions and engaging fireside chats. 

Some of these formats in more detail are as follows:

  • Fireside Chats — these informal sessions offered an opportunity to interact closely with speakers. Personally attending a panel chat with Howard Williamson, distinguished British youth expert, and Sergei Guriev, Russian economist, ex-EBRD Chief Economist, was both warm and reassuring. Tip: let participants self-organize and lead these chats as more ownership equals more engagement. 
  • Fish Bowl Format — a more dynamic alternative to traditional panels, the fish bowl format involves a small group of participants discussing a topic in the center, while others observe. This fosters engaging, open conversations.  
  • Music Jamming — an expressive and creative way to connect, music jamming allowed participants to bond over shared musical interests. 
  • Hike — a pre-dawn hike up the 1,899-meter-high Gratlspitz mountain demonstrated the power of teamwork and pushed boundaries, serving as an excellent networking opportunity while blending physical activity with the environment. Tip: try to always use your environment in your favor. 
  • Prototyping — learning to develop viable business models through, for example, the Sustainable Business Model Canvas encouraged a holistic approach, emphasizing economic, ecological, and social consequences, maximizing positive impact on society and nature. 
  • Wall of Ideas — a space to pin and share ideas, fostering collaboration and cross-pollination of thoughts. Always works to unite people and let them know that their values are seen and noted, and most important shared with others. 

The learning sessions aimed to serve as networking platforms and laboratories for exploring various topics. 

Participants engaged in discussions ranging from envisioning a net-zero Europe to climate transition, feminist foreign policy, global trade, water quality, geopolitics, multilateralism, and extremism. 

These sessions utilized diverse learning techniques:

  • A tactile activity of “Spaghetti and Marshmallow building” where participants build towers using spaghetti and marshmallows to promote innovation, problem-solving, and team bonding. 
  • A rapid-fire bonding exercise where participants share brief personal stories with 1 stranger who introduces them to the group. 
  • Structured sessions using Lego for prototyping and translating ideas into tangible models, recognized by organizations like Sitra. 
  • Attendees choose icons on a floor diagram that resonate with their beliefs or interests and stand near it. It helps to move participants and match-mark them with each other in an immersive manner. 
  • Jumping Exercises: Physical breaks to re-energize attendees during intensive sessions. 
  • A competitive spin on the classic game Paper-Rock-Scissors, with participants facing off until a champion emerges, creating a spirited atmosphere. Try asking everybody to cheer for each other and then it will become an energizer! 
  • Sessions begin and end by assessing attendees’ moods with just one word, allowing for reflection and understanding of the group’s collective energy. One word check-in and check-out. Simple yet powerful. 

In summary, #EFA23 provided a diverse and engaging platform for thought leaders to collaborate, learn, and address critical global challenges through innovative formats and techniques, making it a valuable event for all participants. 

I particularly took note of all these immersive techniques to take advantage and use in our learning environments. 

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