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Raise your hand if you loved going to class as a kid! ✋ Okay, if you did, you’re a rare breed. Learning isn’t usually made fun for us as children, right? Unless we’re learning about something we’re interested in, it’s easy to tune out.
So, when an experience makes me feel like I’m back in a classroom, I automatically start feeling a bit antsy. And I noticed this happening when we were in California for an oyster farm tour.
I had been looking forward to this for a month and the guy leading the tour was SO nice. But the way the tour was structured left much to be desired. We know that curious travelers love to learn. But the last thing we want is to make them feel like they’re in a lecture.
“The holy grail is activating someone’s curiosity so it becomes a sort of collaboration – they’re doing the work, so they get a greater reward. This means we have to battle the cultural expectation that it’ll be a passive experience – that people can turn up and let it wash over them. We need to raise people’s expectations and sense of responsibility so they get more out of it as a result.” - Sophia Shaw, fellow World Experience Organization member
First off, when we arrived, we sat around waiting 15 minutes for four people who were running late. Womp womp.
Okay everyone has finally arrived, now we can get started. 45 minutes of lecture style teaching begins. Education was focused purely on how they farm and how oysters grow. It lacked any story, and the way the information was presented didn't really provoke my curiosity.
Finally we’re ready to sit down and learn how to shuck! Yay! This is pretty straightforward but requires some muscle. We each get about 4-5 oysters to shuck and when it finally pops open – woo! Dopamine hit. How fun. Then we spend about 10 minute chatting with the couple sitting across from us, thank the tour guide, and head over to the farm’s restaurant for more oysters and lunch.
The Experience's Potential
This is a big part of how I help my clients so I can’t give away the whole farm… but here are a few things I was thinking would have been much more engaging, interactive, and curiosity-provoking.
If this were my tour, I’d have some sort of fun educational game people could play as they’re waiting for the rest of the group. Side story: during our lunch overlooking the bay, all the sudden everyone started looking in the water – omg! There was a leopard shark swimming right beside us. How cool! It got me wondering - what other novel creatures are part of this ecosystem? Okay, there’s an idea... what if we created some sort of matching card game that features all the unique animals of the Point Reyes region?
Did you know that Indigenous oyster fisheries of this area would form middens (hills) with their oyster shells? Some were small and perhaps only used seasonally, while others were monumental, towering up to 30 feet into the sky, serving as important ceremonial, sacred and symbolic spaces.
The biggest oyster midden in the US is in Florida. How many oysters make up this midden? Any guesses?
An estimated 2.1 BILLION oysters.
And some of the oldest oyster middens are found in California, dating back more than 6,000 years!
I didn’t learn any of this during the tour, by the way. I just learned that from the Smithsonian. But this is a much more fascinating anecdote than anything I learned during our tour. According to this article, indigenous peoples had a relationship with oysters and used them as part of their cultural practices. What were those cultural practices? Also, how did people thousands of years ago even open oysters? Now my curiosity is waking up and on a roll...
Breaking up facts with a little mystery, surprise, and fascination can go a long way. And it’s important to keep overly educational parts of an experience to no more than 20 minutes blocks. Research has found that when teachers change what students do every 15-20 minutes, students can sustain immersion for an hour. So, let’s move to the shucking early, to break things up. We can continue to teach & engage while the shucking is happening.
Learning a hands-on skill is always more engaging than listening to someone speak at you. We were instructed on how to open the oysters... but is there an art to tasting oysters? Could our guide have helped us notice the nuances of one oyster variety over another? The creaminess vs. brininess… is there a smell test or signs of a really great oyster?
Hold the phone. Did you know there is such a thing as a MERMMELIER? Like a sommelier, but for oysters. Okay, now I KNOW this could have been a much more interactive part of the experience. There’s a whole merroir out there to learn!!
And now that I know how to shuck, are there oyster pairings that I may not have thought about that I can try at home? How can I make oysters a more regular part of my everyday life? I have been told I need more zinc in my diet…
What if there was some sort of pairing sheet takeaway that I could bring home with me? After all, this company JUST launched a brand new online shop that will deliver oysters straight to my door... don't they want to drive more sales?
Okay, see how that evolved as I was writing it? Welcome to the mind of a very, very curious person. Approaching this experience with a bit more inquisitiveness opened up so many doors for greater intrigue and engagement. Am I an oyster specialist? No. Do I need to be one to turn this tour into something more captivating? No!
If I wanted to spend some more time on this I could have an entire new concept fleshed out that is more immersive, more valuable, and therefore, worth more $$$.
Now is the time to take a look at your own experience. And we can do this together if you feel too close to it. Sometimes all you need is the right person to ask the right questions to unlock your experience's potential! If I was able to reimagine this tour in less than two hours, imagine what could be done with a little more time...
The possibilities are endless!