I’m trying to document some of my thinking around active constructivist learning for adults. In my experience everyone appreciates the idea of learning by doing but many find it hard to imagine the range of sessions that can be designed.
Many learning designers fall back on talking and telling, and relegate making and reflection to only a few components of a course. I want to argue that exploring, making and constructing should form part of the majority of sessions and that the same components can be adapted to sessions of varying lengths and levels.
This diagram highlights the typical parts of a “learning by doing” session experienced by a learner: preparation, challenge, team work, sharing and reflection, and follow-up.
Preparation may take place before the programme and involves reading, exploring, watching and experimenting. It might be experienced alone, might be predominantly online and will be guided with questions and activities. The goal of this step is to help the learner explore sufficient ideas to be able to contribute to group activities and discussions.
Providing focus for our session is a challenge that will be tackled by a group of prepared learners. This may take many forms including client problems to solve, imagining future products, tackling a pressing customer need or taking an adventure into a new unfamiliar topic together. From a design perspective there are four steps identified: setting the scene, getting teams ready to explore, briefing them clearly on what will happen and the resources and tools available to them, and clarifying the deliverables that will be expected. The briefing should not take long and should not seen as an opportunity to teach.
Team work to tackle the challenge is the heart of the session and may last an hour or several days. This is where the teams make, experiment, research and test their ideas. The role for the educator is to support and sometimes intervene with resources, suggestions, examples, tools; encouragement and nudging. Again the goal is not to teach or take over but provide learners with guidance, structure and support. The most powerful sessions will happen face to face to maximise the social components of constructivist learning.
The fourth stage is sharing and reflection and involves capturing what has been experienced and what has been learned (by individual learners). Learnings will be related to the topic and the challenge but also to how the team performed and self reflections about each learner’s contributions and experience. Many sessions will involve presentations by all or some of the teams and may include discussions around how the ideas can be applied to their own contexts, businesses and lives. The skilled facilitator will draw out connections, expose different perspectives and challenge learners to extract meaning from the experience. While reflection can be 30-45 mins, in many cases much longer will be needed to surface all that happened during the experience. Consider sharing and reflection to be similar to both the review and retrospective aspects of an Agile sprint.
It is important to add a final step to maximise the whole learning journey and this takes place beyond the session. It may consist of activities that allow the learner to test their ideas in their own setting, continue their reflections, evaluate impact or provide them with resources to go further and deeper.
Designing individual components
There are many choices to be made in each of these steps. Here are some ideas for each of them. Some are more suitable for longer sessions and experiences.
|Preparation: get ready to explore||Setting: the theatre of the session||Teaming: build the team for the exercise||Briefing: share the challenge||Deliverables: what has to be delivered|
|Research||Time based challenge||Ice breaker||Client presents challenge (or video)||App prototype|
|Readings||Individual roles||Check-in to focus attention||Challenge statement||Posters|
|Video briefings||Solve a mystery||Team formation||Goal setting||Pitches|
|Surveys of their own setting||Scenario setting||Live audience polling||Co-creation of problem||Budgets|
|Tool introduction, sign-up and practice||Hackathon||Summarise preparation in words or pictures||Choices of brief, client or approach||Podcasts|
|Current assumptions||Game show||Small group share back with key lessons identified||Planning||Films|
|Work shadowing||Site visit. Change location||Question gathering||Recent news||Plans|
|Data collection||Treasure hunt||Reminder of models||Problem identification and immersion||Models|
|Opposing perspectives||Client/expert visit||Tour/Map of a topic or location||Data||Diagrams|
|Find evidence||Company wide jam||Suggested resources and tools||Business context||Pictures|
|Pair collaboration||Decision point – board meeting/crisis||Team agreements||Clarification of expectations||Design a game|
Groupwork: learning through making
This is the core of the session and should involve the learners iteratively researching, designing, creating and testing a solution to the posed challenge. The team will keep a focus on the expected deliverables but interim versions may be in other formats including notes, diagrams, sketches, storyboards or models. They will use insights from their preparation and from their own existing perspectives (and prior learning).
|Interventions: keeping the team engaged||Plenary: sharing back ideas||Application to work: extracting lessons for your business||Reflections: identifying impact on work and on yourself||Follow-up: taking the ideas further|
|Progress||Show and tell||Presentations to work team||Campfire Q&A||Evaluation of the experience|
|Disruption – change of brief||Gallery||Recognising similarity between the challenge and their own contexts||Focus on teamwork||Further reading|
|Scaffolding||Dot voting||Identification of lessons||Helpful & harmful behaviours||Extension activities to deepen their understanding|
|Feedback||Client Feedback||Comparison with current solutions||Personal commitments||Pass-it on (repeat with others in your team)|
|Check-points||Peer Feedback||Planning testing||Appreciation||Postcards from the future|
|Change teams||Summarise Learnings||User interviews||Personal diary||Question generation|
|Stimulii||Discussions||Situation analysis||Crowdsourcing key lessons||Test in a work context|
|Summarise||Debate||Create a hit squad||Testing understanding||Reflect again (after some time has passed)|
|New or clarified deliverables||Awards||Scenario Planning||What made you most uncomfortable?||Researching their own|
|New data||Pitching to clients||Identification and removal of barriers|
I hope this is useful to a few learning designers out there and would love comments and suggestions for improvement.