My fifth day of writing led me to complete the section on ‘exploring’. Exploration is the third stage of the learning methodology, sitting after ‘Context’ and ‘Demonstration’, and it’s where we get to play with what we are looking at.
Inevitably this led me into a section i was fearing: learning styles. I didn’t wan’t this to turn into an academic exploration of the literature, but i certainly need to provide an overview. To maintain the flow whilst writing, i just made notes in this section and did some preliminary research. It’s one to come back to when i’ve completed the first draft!
Instead, i was able to spend more time looking at strategies for exploration and a key section on ‘getting lost’, which was much more enjoyable.
(extract) Flexing your style
I look at the hedgehog in the box. He seems to have perked up a bit. From our first meeting on the lawn, when he appeared semi comatose and on his way to the greater hedgerow in the sky, he now appears to be more alert, curious. Although what do i know, i have no expertise in hedgehog physiology and maybe he was just sleepy after a particularly satisfactory earthworm.
As the sun moves overhead, lighting the inside of the box, he snuffles his way into a corner. From there, his claws scraping lightly on the cardboard, he works his way along one side, to the next corner. Some more sniffing, then another shuffle to the third corner and, after a pause, the fourth. Finally, he returns to the original scene of his exploration and sets off again. There is no door and, had there been, i suppose he lacks the opposable thumb to operate it. Mind you, his diligence and perseverance are impressive. As he completes another circuit, i can’t help but wonder if he is determined or just dumb. Or maybe this is his way of dropping me a hint.
I tip the box gently onto it’s side and he slowly shuffles out, in no apparent hurry and oblivious to all intents and purposes to my presence. Life has resumed and no longer contains any corners.
I ponder what would have happened had i not released him. Would he have continued to circle the box, would he have waited for the end, or would he have experimented with clawing his way out. From my perspective, up above, it’s clear that he has the strength and the tools to cut through the box with relative ease. Cardboard is not particularly tough and i know that he can excavate through the earth with those claws. Maybe he just couldn’t be bothered. Maybe he knew i would let him out.
Hedgehogs apparently demonstrate little willingness to flex their style, preferring instead to keep probing their environment in roughly the same way as before. And why not. I suppose that if you’re a hedgehog and you find yourself unable to move forward, simply following the edge is likely to, eventually, lead you back out the way you came in. There are not many boxes in the wild, so his strategy was efficient. Much like the approach that will get you out of any maze if you just follow the left hand wall for long enough.
The prisoners held in Colditz in the second world war were, by contrast, constantly adapting. Colditz was supposed to be ‘escape proof’, and prisoners who had bettered the defences of other prisons but been recaptured were transferred there leading, in effect, to an escapees masterclass of talent. They used disguises, built tunnels, pole vaulted and even tried to fly. As each avenue of escape was closed, they opened up another one. They were nothing if not flexible, as evidenced by 130 escapes throughout the war.
Of course, the ability to adapt and flex our styles is by no means unique to humans, even if it’s not particularly evident in hedgehogs. Squirrels are notoriously good problem solvers and fast learners.
I think it’s safe to say that the ability to flex our learning style is an advantage, so why don’t we more actively encourage that within our solutions. What typically happens is that we end up trying to build something that is optimised for different styles, but that’s like asking someone to throw a dart and you hold the dartboard, trying to move it rapidly to get the dart to land on the bullseye. Let’s flip our viewpoint around and look at what happens when we throw the dart at a static board: it lands to the left, so we adapt our next shot right a bit. it falls short, so we throw harder.
We are good at adapting and adapting plays very happily into our section on exploration. So, instead of looking at learning styles as something that we have to identify and hit, or instead of looking at it as an excuse for poor performance, why not look on it as a map for how we design creative and dynamic solutions. Let’s throw the challenge back to the learner to adapt and utilise not one, but any and all of the styles and to focus on what that experience can teach us. What can we learn about and from the process itself?