Achiever vs. Explorer Learning

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A recent gaming concept I became acquainted with was Bartle's playing modes which include socializing, dominating, achieving and exploring. I was able to rule myself as a socializer (more solitaire please) and a dominator (as much as I like a good flame war, I try not to start one).

But that left exploration and achievement...which I do like, but rarely at the same time. Although I enjoy both modes, I think they contradict each other somewhat for me. To be really simplistic, I associate achievement mode with "school" and exploring learning with "research."

When I am in achievement mode, I want it to be structured, have clear goals and guidelines and to be efficient. I want to know just the information I will need to achieve the goal (an A, a certificate, a passing score, whatever). Rewards are definitely more extrinsic, but that doesn't mean I don't enjoy the process. I really do enjoy learning "stuff", but I will confess to being impatient if I don't pick it up quickly. I also tend to be more "instructor oriented", that is I want to know what the INSTRUCTOR thinks is important to I can give the "right answer." In one sense, I treat school as a bit of a game, and I know I am not alone.

But achievement mode is different. I am happy to have a structure (preferably one I decide on), but am happy to wander off the beaten path. The one thing I am not to happy about having is either a score or a timeline. Yes, I want to know what others think, but want to be free to form my own judgment, regardless of any other opinion. And if I decide something leads to a dead end, I want to be free to drop it. So...although I enjoy achieving in academics, it is difficult for me to enjoy exploring in academics. The guidelines are much fuzzier and the stakes for being "wrong" seem much higher. And again, I don't think I am alone in this thought.

Let's compare and contrast.

Achieving Wants Exploring Wants
  • Instructor oriented
  • Extrinsic rewards
  • Clear grading rubric
  • Clear goals
  • Clear information, stick to topic and clear "rules"
  • Insight into instructor mindset
  • Self oriented
  • Intrisic rewards
  • Create rubric, structure
  • Freedom to deviate
  • Freedom to drop experiment/research
  • Mentoring only upon request

Ironically though, exploration probably leads to more meaningful learning for a student. A student learns a lot by pursuing his or own interest, but probably needs some mentoring at some point to make sure the results are "on track". But how can we convince students to take the chances you need to take to switch from "achieving" to "exploring?"

I think this something a good mentor needs to help students with. I distinctly writing my first undergrad thesis. There was a theoretical point that I knew my advisor disagreed with so I was trying to tip toe around the issue. I finally asked what he "wanted", and he replied that he wanted me to spell out what it was I really thought - so I did. Fortunately, he really meant what he said and approved the text based on my argumentation.

I was a lot more confident doing the same thing after that. It's a tricky point to navigate though as both a student and a mentor. But it's critical to helping students really becoming more comfortable "exploring" in the classroom rather than just "acheiving."


BRETT ALAN BIXLER Author Profile Page said:

Nice thoughtful post! For the explorers, you have to (ideally) reward exploration, or at best, NOT penalize it.

In games, even when the world is nearly doomed, you can go off and explore to your heart's delight most times, only to come back to the main action when you are ready - and find out that amazingly, the entire world has waited for you to return!

Not very realistic, but it is a mechanism that works in games. How do we translate that to other scholarly activities? That's the question of the day!

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