Part 2: The Move to Remote Learning – Curiosity, Context, and Fracturing Frames

Yesterday i shared a view of the transfer of face to face learning into social, virtual and remote contexts. Today i will build out some further areas (until such time as the baby wakes up): as i stressed yesterday, this is not intended as a definitive journey through the pedagogy and techniques of instructional design, but rather a set of frames through which to view the shift, and some practical guidance and ideas to help. So it’s a pragmatics guide, not a perfectionists one.

Curiosity, Context, and Fracturing Frames

Earlier we explored how the shift to more Social models of learning (distributed, and anchored in the everyday reality of the learner) can give the potential for making learning more of a journey, so in parallel to that i wanted to explore the role of curiosity, the importance of context, and why/how good learning helps us to fracture our existing frames of understanding (and how this is done in remote as opposed to face to face contexts).

Curiosity is a strange thing: it does not lie in the realm of things that we know, but is often connected to it, lying just beyond the horizon. Or to put it another way, it’s connected to our known reality, not entirely divorced from it (e.g i may be curious about how to be a better writer, but that curiosity is linked to my current writing ability). Curiosity in learning is important for many reasons, not the least of which being:

  • Curiosity can be a mechanism of engagement, and lies behind many exploratory/game/quest types of learning design.
  • Curiosity can help us to move beyond those things that we ‘know’ to be true: this is the nature of knowledge, often a type of knowledge suffices until curiosity carries us further into the maze (for example, i have always known broadly how rockets flew to the moon, but it was only during the research for the Apollo book that i learnt how the fuel pumps work to drive the gigantic engines).
  • In other words, curiosity can be about adding depth and breadth to a broad frame that we already hold or…
  • Curiosity can fracture broad frames that we hold: for example, i may believe that i am a good driver, but if i get taken out on a skid pan by a rally driver, i may realise that i am only ‘good’ within a narrowly defined understanding of driving.
  • Curiosity can lead us to ask questions.
  • Curiosity can lead us to reject easy answers.
  • Curiosity can lead to us burning our fingers, but by being burnt we ultimately learn about safety.
  • Curiosity can break us out of prisons of the body or mind.
  • Curiosity can act as a counterpoint to blind belief.

So how does curiosity relate to the move to remote? Partly by opportunity, and partly by location: in a workshop session, we can be curious bounded by time and place, but in our ‘everyday reality’, the context of spaced Social Learning, we can be curious within our everyday work, and within broader communities and contexts. And context is everything.

Undoubtedly one of the factors that impacts on retention and effectiveness of Organisational learning is context: the context in which we come to the learning, and the context of what we learn. In other words, learning something at point of need is effective, and learning something that relates to the context of what you already know is effective. The latter point is true for face to face or virtual/remote/social, but the former is a significant advantage for remote: we can be curious within the context of where we need to apply the learning.

In practical terms, we can consider some of the following ideas: note that this is just one example intended to be practical, it’s not a definitive explanation.

I often use the notion of a Landscape of Curiosity within my own learning design, and am explicit about it: i talk about how we stand together on one side of this landscape, looking out across the plains, over the forests, rivers, valleys, and towns, and we are making a journey to a hill on the other side. We will all make the same journey, and we will all see some of the same landmarks along the way, but the footsteps we take, and the dark forests we choose to peer into will be different for all of us. So our journeys are related, but not identical, and so we can talk about exploring our own Landscape of Curiosity, and we can populate it.

We can use stories, or even visual maps, to capture what we are curious about: you can do that for yourself right now. Why are you reading this? Why are you here? Populate your landscape, and then compare it to others: what are the landmarks that you all share, and what is unique to you?

If we understand personal, and collective, context, and if we can capture our individual and collective view of curiosity, then we have a solid foundation for learning, and for application: learning can be contextualised to our individual landscape, partly by what we teach or share, and largely by the ‘sense making’ activities that we carry out.

So, for example, if you are ‘curious’ about this work on this page because you have to shift a workshop to a remote design, then you can capture the things you are curious about (technology, engagement, time needed, resources etc), and you can capture your story as you actually make the change, including your own Expedition Notes of what you learned as you actually did it.

If you operate within a community of instructional designers, and all explore your varied maps and stories, then you can complete a meaningful ‘sense making’ exercise to surface your collective wisdom: an appreciative enquiry into your professional practice. Note that within that approach i am not providing your answers, but rather a frame and scaffolding for you to explore. Your reality is where you rehearse and prototype, and your community is where you create the meaning from that.

So compare what we can do in a time bound location based event (a workshop), vs what we can achieve in our remote/social space, and you can see it’s fundamentally different. But not easier. And it requires just as much, if not more, design effort. So the move to remote is not a cost saving activity.

Fracturing Frames is an output from curiosity: we are all bound up in our ways of understanding the world. As we learn, we may fracture our own frames, which is far far more effective that trying to fracture someone else’s!

What does this mean? Imagine the frame is the bag in which we hold our understanding of the world around us: it contains our meaning. But because it holds our understanding, we sometimes forget that it is there. It’s so obvious that we miss it in the moment. For example culture is a frame. We understand it, but we don’t consciously factor it into every decision, so if i apply for a new job, i do so within the context of a culture where people go to work and get paid. Never for a moment do i imagine i live in a world without currency, or a world where people are paid not to work. Maybe that seems like a daft example, but frames have constrained all sorts of innovation. Who imagined we would wear smart watches or carry iPhones?

But how would such a large and conceptual thing relate to the move from face to face learning into remote?

Largely because, again, remote/Social learning, and even virtual learning, takes place within our broader context, especially if we use an appropriate methodology for design that brings our everyday reality into the learning.

For example: design learning with no case studies, but instead ask people to curate and interpret their own case studies as part of the learning journey. And then use the community to ‘sense make’ those individual narratives. Will these be as grand as an HBR case study? No: but because they are owned by us, and the ‘sense making’ is collective, they are more authentic and probably better understood. And it is this process of exploration that allows us to fracture frames.

Frames break in two ways: because we explore to their limits, or because circumstance stretches credibility to breaking point. That second example is known as disruption, risk, VUCA, of failure. So best to operate around the first if we can.

What to do about this?

  • Create learning journeys that encourage learners to move up to the edge of their understanding.
  • Do this by using creative assessment methods that DO NOT test knowledge, but reward curiosity.
  • Consider how you can support the ‘sense making’ piece: what is the role of leadership, what is the role of a moderator, and how will you hear the ‘sense’ that has been made.
  • Actively employ ‘storyteller’ roles, so be explicit about the mechanisms of storytelling, the expectations, the spaces, and the support. Indeed, storytelling is a central part of Social Learning approaches, and we are able to do it more effectively remotely than in time bound physical spaces, because we can journal the learning story over time, with active reflection built in.


I will continue to expand this work over subsequent days to explore the other areas.

About julianstodd

Author, Artist, Researcher, and Founder of Sea Salt Learning. My work explores the context of the Social Age and the intersection of formal and social systems.
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