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Exploration Learning

As Joi Ito says, education is what others do to you, and learning is what you do for yourself. If learning explicitly includes defining and solving problems, then participants are modeling the process of learning on one’s own and becoming better learners. We can start simply with having students ask questions, or by solving multi-step problems that the instructor knows the answer to.

We call this exploration learning: defining a problem, asking questions about the problem, finding the resources needed to answer the questions, answering the overall problem, and assessing your answer and methodology. 

Through exploration learning, learners should:

  • Recognize and be unafraid of unsolved problems,
  • Be curious about what is known and how we know it,
  • Be willing to work toward answers in steps over time,
  • Develop independence and initiative in working toward solutions,
  • Have patience with ambiguity,
  • Have patience with dead ends (“failures”) and thus build resilience,
  • Understand the difference between a problem theyhave not solved, and a problem no onehas solved,
  • Practice listening and respecting the contributions of teammates and
  • Experience knowledge creation.

During exploration learning, learners should do one or more of:

  • Practice asking questions,
  • Learn how to improve their questions,
  • Solve problems that require multiple steps and may not have single answers,
  • Identify and tackle problems whose solution is not known to the team or instructor (knowledge creation),
  • Obtain and assess the quality of the content they use to reach answers,
  • Assess the quality of the answers they produce, and
  • Work in interdisciplinary groups where all voices contribute. 

 

Involving students in knowledge creation is a challenge in a large university unless we bring research into the classroom and the classroom into the research lab. Exploration learning skills are critical to the concept of “master learners” – students must learn the skills and processes needed for answering tomorrow’s questions, not just absorb the content discovered to date.