In this, the fourth in a series of four posts, we manage the seemingly impossible – we both break the mould and then find we have come full circle. The former is true because exploration, the fourth strategy, is by far the most learner-centred and the only strategy that concentrates on ‘pull’ rather than ‘push’ (more on this in a minute). It also represents the closing of the circle, because as with exposition, the first strategy we looked at, the learning design is both simple and relatively unstructured, in stark contrast to instruction and guided discovery.
With the exploration strategy, each learner determines their own learning process, taking advantage of resources provided not only by teachers/trainers but also by peers. What they take out of this process is entirely individual and largely unpredictable. As such, exploration may seem a relatively informal strategy, but no less useful for that. In fact it’s probably the way that a great deal of learning takes place.
With exposition, instruction and even guided discovery, learning activities and resources are ‘pushed’ at the learner by the teacher/trainer. With the exploration strategy, activities and resources are ‘pulled’ by the learner according to need. Exploration may play a small part in a formal course, perhaps a list of books or links which learners can choose to dip into if they wish; but it could just as easily constitute the central plank in the provision of, say, just-in-time performance support in the workplace.
There’s no reason why exploration should stop at content. The same principles could be applied to live events such as unconferences, where participants determine what is delivered and by whom. It could also apply in an asynchronous context, in which learners collaborate with peers using social networks, social bookmarking or blogging.
The role of the teacher/trainer is clearly very different to the three previous strategies. With exploration, the emphasis shifts ‘from courses to resources’, so what is needed is no longer a lecturer, instructor or facilitator, more a curator or librarian. What’s important here is to smooth the way for learners to find resources and to locate like-minded peers; that means providing repositories, search engines and all manner of social media tools.
Exploration is not a universal strategy by any means. Novices and dependent learners will struggle with so little structure and direction. Important top-down initiatives can not rely on such woolly and inconsistent outcomes. But there’s no doubt that the trend is towards more learner-centred approaches: more pull less push, more just-in-time than just-in-case, more flexibility and less structure. The key, as ever, is not in following the fashion, but knowing when the time is right to use each of these strategies appropriately.