Every learning solution, formal or informal, employs one or more of the following four basic strategies, whether or not this decision has been made consciously:
Exposition is the simple delivery of information from subject expert to learner. Typically this process is required as part of a formal syllabus.
Examples include lectures, presentations and prescribed reading.
The driver for this strategy is very definitely the subject expert.
With instruction, a systematic process is applied to the teaching process. This process typically starts with the formulation of specific learning objectives and culminates in some form of assessment. Along the way, a variety of media may be used to convey information and all sorts of practical exercises used to help the learner develop the required knowledge and skills.
Instruction can take place in the classroom, through self-study e-learning or on the job.
The driver for this strategy is the instructor or, in the case of self-study materials, the instructional designer.
Guided discovery is also a carefully structured process, but the emphasis here is on setting up activities from which the learner can gain their own insights and come to their own conclusions.
Within formal interventions, examples might include the use of scenarios, simulations, case studies and leadership tasks. This strategy can also be employed on the job, using techniques such as coaching, action learning, job enrichment and job rotation.
The driver for this strategy is the facilitator or, in the case of self-study materials, the designer.
Exploration hands over control to the learner to make all the choices. There are no pre-defined objectives, no syllabus and no assessment.
The exploration strategy is most likely to be applied in the provision of on-demand support to the learner as they carry out their jobs, sometimes in the form of content, sometimes through a help desk. But exploration is also the underlying strategy behind the use of social media at work – communities of practice, forums, wikis, etc. – which allow employees to support each other.
The driver for this strategy is the learner. Having said that, there is an important role for the learning and development professional as a sort of curator, someone who provides the learner with the appropriate tools and supports them in finding the right people and content.
Using the strategies
These strategies can be applied to any type of learning intervention. In some cases, different strategies can be used at different stages within a single solution, for example: the use of exposition for essential pre-reading, the use of instruction to convey important rules, the use of guided discovery to bring out key underlying principles, the use of exploration for on-going reference.