Difficulties in Implementing Learning by Exploring

While giving students ready access to a range of experts would certainly help them learn, its practical implementation seems unrealistic. Consider what happens today. When we want to know something, we usually ask the person who is easiest to access, as long as there is some hope that they have the information we want. Who can we ask? A student has a teacher. A professional has a colleague. An employee has his boss. A child has his parents. An adult has his friends and neighbors.

The situation couldn't be worse.

This arrangement keeps most people seriously misinformed. Usually when we try to access experts what we really get are "local experts," the nearest person who knows the most. This is a real problem in daily life. We may want to find the best restaurant or the best tax advice, but we have to settle for Uncle Henry, who "knows about these things." We don't normally view schoolteachers this way, but how can they help but be officially sanctioned versions of Uncle Henry? Teachers can only know so much.

Even if we were to develop a race of omniscient teachers, we would not solve our problem. No teacher has the time to answer every question that every student has. In the business environment, in which we substitute "experts" for "teachers," the time problem is even worse. One might think that in a large organization the experts might be available to the people in that organization who need their expertise. But this is usually not the case. The people who really need the expertise, who have the most to learn, namely, the newest and least important employees in the organization, have the least access to the experts.

This argument can be taken one more step. Even if we were to have enough omniscient teachers to assign to each student, our problem still would not be solved. The problem with this "one question, one teacher" arrangement is that even if the teacher knows the answer, he can only present his own point of view. Interesting questions often have a range of answers about which even real experts disagree. When a student asks "Should we have free health care?" do we want them to receive only one point of view? It's not clear that hearing too much of either Bill Clinton or Bob Dole would provide the best education. Instead of settling for one expert per topic, we should enable our students to formulate their own opinions by giving them access to a range of experts.

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