“Chalk and Talk” vs Collaboration – Can We Meet Halfway? – Tip #78

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The debate between Direct Instruction vs Discovery Learning is not new. It has been around. However, the amazing part is, it still rages on. Should we let the trainers and designers take control of the learning process or should we transfer the steering wheels to the learners? There is no easy answer.

Direct Instruction vs Discovery Learning
According to Jean Piaget, the father of discovery learning, interfering with discovery blocks complete understanding. Therefore, discovery learning should be the preferred way to learn.
A. Faye Borthick and Donald R. Jones emphasized the advantage of collaboration in discovery learning and the sense of community that results from it.  They opined that, “In discovery learning, participants learn to recognize a problem, characterize what a solution would look like, search for relevant information, develop a solution strategy, and execute the chosen strategy. In collaborative discovery learning, participants, immersed in a community of practice, solve problems together.”
On the other hand, experts like Paul A. Kirschner, John Sweller and Richard E. Clark are strongly in favor of Direct Instruction. According to them, “learners should be provided with direct instructional guidance on the concepts and procedures required by a particular discipline and should not be left to discover those procedures by themselves.”
Personally, I prefer Discovery Learning but I also acknowledge that there are situations where Direct Instruction is the better approach.
How Do We Provide Information and Still Make Learning a Discovery Rather than Telling the Learner?

Tita Beal who is an Instructional Designer with the American Management Association posed this challenge, “How then can we guide learners toward a skill model, conceptual framework, correct procedure or other “answers” while still providing opportunities to discover, use inductive reasoning and give a sense of ownership over – and therefore more commitment to apply – the learning? In short, how and when do we provide the information and still make learning a discovery lesson rather than telling the learner?”

According to Beal, this is an example of direct instruction: “stop and think before responding to identify the stage of the change process — denial, resistance, acceptance even if grudging or
full commitment?

I believe a third option is in order:

I usually use the embedded model. This means that in a Story-Based eLearning lesson, I design an event so that the learners need to access a reference guide to find the answers to the problem they are solving in the event.
An example event might be:

Compare that to Beal’s “stop and think before responding to identify the stage of the change process – denial, resistance, acceptance even if grudging or full commitment?

We keep on creating events to help learners discover the content in real life. 
You can always provide a link to show learners the key ideas. My suggestion would be to rewrite the content in a way that relates to your scenario.

For example: (as an Insight)

Why does Gigi suspect Joe’s views? What are the consequences if Gigi continues to deny, resist and not accept her tasks/role/etc. as demanded by the situation? On the other hand what would be the benefits if Gigi opens her mind to accept and commit?

Observe, that your content is still integrated within the insight. But it is in a story form and related to the decisions that your learners can relate to.


While the debate between Direct Instruction and Discovery Learning rages on, I believe we can come up with a third option where we provide instructions to the learners while keeping the learning process as a discovery scenario. Embedding insight into the content designed in a form of a story, makes it natural for the learners to relate to.


A. Faye Borthick and Donald R. Jones. The Motivation for Collaborative Discovery Learning Online and Its Application in an Information Systems Assurance Course. Georgia State University

Paul A. Kirschner , John Sweller & Richard E. Clark. Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based,Experiential, and Inquiry-Based Teaching. Educational Psychologist

William W. Cobern, et.al. Experimental Comparison of Inquiry and Direct Instruction in Science

Jean Piaget, Wikipedia

Ray Jimenez, PhD
Vignettes Learning
“Helping Learners Learn Their Way”