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, but the 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. Guided discovery is best suited to the teaching of principle-based tasks, where the learner will be required in their work to make judgments in widely varying situations.
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 packaged content, sometimes by access to experts. But exploration is also the underlying strategy behind the use of social media at work – communities of practice, forums, wikis, etc. – that allow employees to provide support to each other.
The driver for the exploration 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 novice learners with the appropriate tools and supports them in finding the right people and content.
The four 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, and the use of exploration for on-going reference.
Some learning professionals stick to one of the strategies almost as a matter of faith – it sums up their philosophy of how learning should be achieved. And for some organisations, the strategy that they use for learning is so pervasive that it has almost become a cultural expectation. In practice, it pays to remain agnostic. Each of these strategies has its place, depending on what needs to be learned and by whom. The trick is to use your judgement in determining which strategy to use and when.
Next up: Three social contexts for learning