We put discovery at the center of our learning experiences. That’s a bit different from what others do.

Conventional drill- or exercise-based disaster preparedness efforts start by telling people what they should do. Then they give them a chance to practice doing it “right.” They might give them some classroom instruction first, and provide them with checklists.

We throw them in at the deep end, and let them figure out what they know and what they need to know. Then we discuss their insights, answer their questions, and throw them back in to try again. Then we give them checklists.

Of course, we don’t throw them in a random “deep end.” We do a lot of work to ensure that the challenges they run into will lead them to “discover” what we want them to discover. That’s why the research and design we put into crafting learning experiences is so important. And why we take care that learning experiences are adapted to specific communities and participants.

We believe that discovery-based learning1 is appropriate for our audiences for several reasons:

  1. We are targeting adults. Adults already know something about crisis, leadership, and improvisational problem-solving. And they use discovery-based learning in their own lives all the time.
  2. The mindsets and skills we want to convey are very amenable to learning by Aha! moments. Besides, we think that people will remember facts better if they asked for them when they needed the answer.
  3. By letting people help direct their learning, we are less likely to waste time on what they already know, or on things that aren’t relevant to their lives.
  4. Letting people discover their own knowledge gaps is more likely to arouse curiosity. If they are curious, they are more likely to be inspired to want to fill them.
  5. It’s just plain more fun.

By letting our participants “figure it out,” we hope that they will react to a real event with, “Oh, here’s what I learned last time I did this…” rather than, “Wait, what was it they said I’m supposed to do?”


1This approach is rooted in constructivist theories of learning and discovery- or inquiry-based educational theories. There is much research on the benefits and drawbacks of such approaches. If you dig into it, you should note that most of the work is in the context of childhood science education.

Thanks to Tom Prussing for inspiring me to clarify these differences.