In this series of five articles, i’m exploring a methodology for e-learning: Context, Demonstration, Exploration, Reflection and Footsteps.
We are, by nature, explorers.
When we are born, we explore from the earliest age. We start by poking and prodding things, tasting things, smelling things, and graduating, as our mental capacity develops, into formulating patterns of expected outcomes and testing the world against them.
Exploration is both physical and mental: physically exploring our world, learning how to crawl, to walk, to run, learning how far we can safely jump, learning to write, to type, to type faster. Learning how to draw, how to draw complex geometrical patterns and abstract scribbles, depending on what visual language we want to use. Some skills are easy to attain, others take a lifetime, some we get better at with age, whilst some deteriorate.
Our mental exploration is a process of exploring ideas, ways of thinking, patterns of thought. We construct our worldview from the things that we read, hear and learn and the things that we think, believe and hypothesise about. Our worldview is not static, but rather a framework of how we expect the world to behave and how we plan to respond. It includes our beliefs, thoughts and desires, dictates how we interact with each other and how we reconcile our actions against our core beliefs.
Learning new things can challenge any of these things. It can challenge our physical ability, our dexterity and our stamina, and it can challenge our thoughts, our beliefs, our notion of what is true, good or right.
New facts, ideas and skills need to be aligned with those that we have already learnt and mastered. New knowledge needs to be contextualised against those things that we already know. We have to make decisions as to whether it supersedes current knowledge, enhances it, or fundamentally challenges it. If there is challenge, we need to work this through, to decide what we ‘think’ about the new information.
New skills needs to be practiced, to follow the time worn curve of consciously incompetent, consciously competent through to unconsciously competent. There are plateaus and frustrations throughout the process, but there are no short cuts to mastering skills.
Being told something is one thing, exploring it, rationalising it, balancing it up against existing knowledge and ideas and adapting our worldview accordingly is the process of learning.
Accordingly, we need to create space for learners to explore within e-learning. We need to construct a space where they can take the things that we are telling them and play with them, manipulate them and make them their own. It’s not enough to tell someone that something is right; we need to create a space where they can explore it and decide for themselves whether it is right or not.
In practical terms, we need to create areas where skills can be practiced, but within a constrained environment where we can give feedback and advice. We need to encourage learners to diagnose situations, to take decisions based upon that diagnosis, to justify their decisions and to understand the consequences. This can be achieved through the technology, but it’s important to understand that it’s not the technology that’s important, it’s the underlying methodology that will deliver success.
Technology in itself will only ever be part of the story, we need to structure the learning according to our understanding of how people learn and what the barriers are that prevent them from learning.
Exploration cannot be totally unstructured, we need to put boundaries around the space that people can play in, or else the experience just becomes too vague. If we are training people to recruit better, we need to put some parameters around the space that they can explore, through interactive scenarios or exercises. Constraining the environment allows us to control the overall narrative that they are working within, but allows them to explore the story.
Demonstration is crucial to set an expectation of outcomes, but exploration is the process whereby things are internalised, it’s the process by which we develop our worldview to include the new information.
We are all explorers of our own knowledge and ignorance, and our job in designing learning materials is to give people space to explore within these too.