Those who design learning interventions and performance support materials have big choices to make, not only in terms of the social context in which the learning or support will occur (self-directed, one-to-one or group) and the medium (face-to-face, online, offline), but also in terms of the underlying learning strategy. In this and three following posts, I’m going to explore four key strategies, to work out when they work best and for whom. The first of these is exposition.
Exposition is the delivery of information from teacher or subject expert to learner. The process is essentially one-way, although it may include some modest Q&A or discussion. The strategy is top-down and teacher-centred because it is person designing and/or delivering who determines what information is to be delivered and how (and sometimes also where and when).
Exposition can take place in the context of an event, such as a lecture, a seminar or a presentation, and both face-to-face and online, using web, video or tele- conferencing software. Exposition can also take the form of content, using text, images, animation, audio and video. Historically this content was delivered using offline media, such as books, tapes, CDs and DVDs, although now it is as likely to be consumed online or downloaded for delivery on portable platforms such as iPods and e-book readers.
For exposition to work as a strategy, the student must be a relatively independent learner, with a good awareness of what they do and do not know about the subject in question. That way they will be able to determine what is most relevant and therefore most important to focus on and process further, whereas the dependent or novice learner could easily be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of undifferentiated information.
Because of the risk of cognitive overload, it is common for teachers, trainers and learning designers to opt for more interactive strategies such as instruction or guided discovery (which are coming up in the next two posts). This is fine where the target audience really needs support and structure to help them learn, but a major irritation to those who can cope by themselves (particularly senior professionals, such as hospital consultants, lawyers, accountants, executives, academics, etc.).
Because of the absence of interaction, exposition requires less design than, say, highly-participative face-to-face workshops and self-paced learning materials. However, careful planning is still going to be a great help to the reader, listener or viewer:
- Making clear what is the most important information and what is just nice to know.
- Using story-telling and anecdotes to bring abstract concepts to life.
- Making the most appropriate use of media elements – text, images, animation, audio and video.
- Paring down the volume of content to reduce wasted time and minimise the risk of overload.
- Modularising the content so it can be easily random-accessed and reviewed.
Exposition can also play a supporting role in other strategies:
- As background material to be accessed before or after an instructional session.
- As content for learners wishing to formalise their understanding of a subject that is primarily being tackled through a process of guided discovery.
- As material that can be accessed on-demand from a supporting content library.
In summary, I’d choose exposition as a strategy when I need to control what information is delivered and to whom, and when I feel confident that the target audience will happily be able to work with this information without a great deal of support. If I judge the situation right, then I’ll save an awful lot of money not having to run workshops or create interactive online materials.