Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

2 May 2017

To show or not to show (and when)

Clark @ 8:04 am

At an event the other evening, showing various career technology tools, someone said something that I thought was just wrong. I asked afterwards, and then explained why I thought it was wrong. The response was “well, there can be different ways to go about it”. And frankly, there really can’t.  Think for yourself about why I might say so, and then let me show you why.

The trigger was a design program talking about their design courses. And the representative was saying that once a learner had created a project, it was shown to everybody. Which sounds good, since ‘sharing is caring’, or at least it’s a good example of working out loud. And, in general, this is a good idea. But I think it’s not in learning.

In brainstorming (e.g. informal learning), we know that sharing before others have had their chance to think, it can color their output. This limits the exploration of the total possible space of opportunities that would come from a diverse team. Hearing another response likely will limit that spaces that might get explored. Instead, the goal is to diverge before converging.

And so, too, in learning. I’ve argued for assignment submission systems that only allow you to see the other submissions once you’ve submitted your own. Until you’ve struggled yourself with the challenge, you won’t  get the most out of seeing how others have solved the situation.

If you immediately share the first submission, it may affect those who aren’t that far along yet. Some may even end up holding off to see what others do! This undermines the integrity of the assignment. One explanation that was given was to provide guidance to others, but that, to me, is the role of the assignment specification.

There is, however, real value in seeing the other submissions once you’ve completed yours. Seeing other approaches helps broaden the understanding. Better yet is to have discussion on them, as when critiquing others (constructively) you internalize the monitoring. This discussion also provides the opportunity to experiment with working out loud that eventually develops good working habits.

(I’ve similarly argued, by the way, that ‘rollover’ questions -where the answer is shown once you move your pointer over the question- don’t lead to any meaningful learning. If you haven’t made the mental effort to commit to a response, it won’t stick as well.)

So I believe that, if you’re developing people’s ability to do, you have a responsibility to do so in the most advantageous way. That includes making effort to use the best approach to sharing assignments. I was surprised (and dismayed) to see someone arguing to the contrary! I implore you to do the details on the approaches you work, for your learners’, and the learning’s, sake.

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