Sometimes the best way to work on a new design concept is to begin by creating a diagnostic model of an existing learning environment. With that in mind, here’s a learning environment model (LEM) example that shows a standard instructional approach to a lesson designed around a specific concept or topic:
In this model, the instructor or facilitator begins by presenting and explaining the concept being studied. S/he then reinforces the concept by providing additional information via a reading or video. Next, the learner practices the concept as it’s been presented, and then proceeds to demonstrate information mastery through a quiz.
The challenge with such a model is that it begins with the specific “what” of the lesson – the “right answer.” Unfortunately, once this “right answer” has been introduced formally by the instructor or facilitator, learners generally lose all motivation to discover or explore the “why.” Why does it matter to me personally? How does it fit into everything else I know? What kind of assumptions do I have about this topic and where did they come from?
Once the “right answer” has been formally introduced, the need for reflection and critical thinking are often abandoned. The learner moves quickly to memorizing the answer, along with any other data that may be necessary to demonstrate mastery.
By contrast, if we introduce an inquiry or discovery phase at the beginning of the lesson, one that is not focused on the “right answer,” we can provide information contextualization, motivation for information exploration, and personal evaluation of the concept.
Here is a revised LEM that shows one example of what this might look like:
In this revised model, the lesson opens by inviting learners to discover and explore experiences and assumptions related to the concept or topic before it’s introduced formally. This flows into an experimentation phase in which learners ask questions like, “How would things be different if this didn’t exist?” or “What if we changed the order of things or flipped things upside down?”
Once we’ve contextualized learners, given them an intellectual context for and a personal interest in the information we’re going to share, then they’re ready for a formal presentation of the right answer. At that point, they’re already in critical thinking mode. They know how to classify the information and determine how it’s meaningful to their personal circumstances.