2. Discovery Learning: Learn by Doing

Jerome Bruner“Practice in discovering for oneself teaches one to acquire information in a way that makes that information more readily viable in problem solving.” - Jerome Bruner

This method is the exact opposite of Advance Organizers. It is based on discovering for oneself. Discovery more than logic. What Bruner argued as “natural learning.”

Why is this a good method?

We can ask:

How do babies and children learn?

How do they learn not to touch a hot stove?

How do they learn to ride a bike?

Probably NOT with someone else’s advance organizers or someone else’s sequenced logic.

There are only two things we know for sure about adults:
1. They love structure.
2. They hate structure.
- Anonymous

Using the Discovery Method

As with most adult learners, we often will need to create the “teachable moment” with our literacy learners. Making learning relevant is essential.

But how?

Some suggestions:

  • Create relevance by problem-posing and problem-solving.

  • Build an atmosphere where asking questions is encouraged.

  • Encourage curiosity. Why do we often become so “uncurious” as we age?

  • Have discussions of handout case studies or learner-based life stories.

  • Read and discuss tensions and issues in novels, in personal stories or with guest speakers.

  • Take field trips to relevant work sites where learners can see jobs and read in real life.

  • Take visits to museums and read explanation labels beside displays.

  • Visit malls or shops and read information signs relevant to learners’ lives.

I once had a graduate student who described the difference between Advance Organizers and Discovery Learning this way: Advance Organizers would be like someone setting a jigsaw puzzle box on a table. You begin by looking at the cover picture before you start putting it together. With Discovery Learning, someone dumps the pieces on the table and says, “Go to it.”

We often can begin with either a planned or a spontaneous teachable moment. For example, if a learner being tutored can give a personal experience that is meaningful to them, or another learner in a classroom can do so, consider going with it. Explore what is relevant while modelling discovery. Wlodkowski would be the first to say teachers should also share their own experiences.

Knowles points out that one way to judge classroom effectiveness is to ask: “Who is doing most of the talking?” While some of our learners will need encouragement, our adults want to share what they know and think. Some will want to do this more than others. As for those who are perpetually quiet, try following them out after class or observe them with friends (at a distance). Many of the “silent ones” will be far more talkative with their friends than in the classroom or with a tutor. It is fair to say all adults like to share their opinions and experiences, and discovery learning can stimulate discussion better than almost any other approach.

There is no “one way” in teaching. It depends on the learner(s), the teacher or tutor, the resources available, the time allotted…even the mood of the day.