So what is it?
Exploration is by far the most learner-centred of the four strategies and the only one strategy that relies on the learner to make all the choices. 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 and 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.
How about some examples?
Exploration may play a small part in a formal course, perhaps a handout, a job aid or a list of books or links which learners can dip into if they wish. On the other hand, it could just as easily form the basis for a complete just-in-time performance support system in the workplace.
When should I use it?
Exploration is unlikely to be used in isolation, particularly with an audience of novices or dependant learners. However, it works well as a way for learners to follow up their interest after a formal course. More importantly, it can form the basis for a comprehensive programme to provide job-related information on demand. This can go further than top-down efforts to provide packaged information and support services such as help desks; it can extend to the use of all manner of social media technologies – communities of practice, forums, wikis, blogging and so on – to enable employees to share expertise on a peer-to-peer basis.
The role you play is clearly going to be very different from the three previous strategies. With exploration, the emphasis shifts ‘from courses to resources’, so what is needed is no longer a lecturer, instructor or a facilitator, more a curator. What’s important here is to smooth the way for learners to find the resources they need and to locate like-minded peers. As curator, you may find yourself categorising and organising content and making learners aware of significant new offerings. You also have a role in ensuring the infrastructure is in place to support content sharing, search, setting up communities of practice, finding experts and much more.
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 cannot 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.
You’ve read them all. So what now?