E is for Exploration, Enlightenment And Expressing What You Have Learned

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Some people love to explore. They love to visit new countries, learn new things and gather fresh experiences. They feel alive when taking these steps.

Some people love to explore a particular topic and gain enlightenment. They love to solve a problem, discover how things work or pursue a spiritual path. They enjoy the Eureka moment of gaining understanding.

Some people love to go further. They love to explore, gain enlightenment and then express what they have learned. The expression they use can take different forms. They may prefer to write, teach, make films, create works of art or employ some other way of passing on knowledge.

Looking back, can you think of a time when you followed some of these steps? You may have chosen to explore a particular theme, gain understanding and then share what you had learned. You may have aimed to fix a problem, master a skill, become a better leader, develop a model that helped other people or whatever.

What made you choose the particular topic? What sparked your interest? What did you do to gather knowledge? What did you do to make the breakthrough? What did you then do to, if appropriate, share this knowledge with other people?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you aimed to explore, gain enlightenment and then express what you had learned in some way.  

Describe the specific things you did to take these steps in your own way.  

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of taking these steps.

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People love to follow these steps. Many develop the habit during their childhoods. Some do it outside the school system.

They pursue a passion such as music, sport, technology, trading or another activity. They gather information, identify patterns and experience a moment of illumination.

Sometimes they translate the breakthrough into a project they want to pursue. They use the knowledge to help other people, create a tangible product or produce some other kind of achievement.

Today we know it is vital to encourage people to maintain their curiosity. Why? People need to use imagination to solve some of the challenges we face.

Some educational systems, for example, are emphasising the importance of helping young people develop the Four Cs of 21st Century Skills. These often involve Clear Thinking, Creativity, Collaboration and Communication. Here is one approach to how they can be translated into action. You can discover more about such Expeditionary Learning via the following link.


Expeditionary Learning emphasises certain principles. Here are some of these, which you can find in a pdf outlining the approach.


Learning is active

Students are scientists, urban planners, historians, and activists, investigating real community problems and collaborating with peers to develop creative, actionable solutions.

Learning is challenging

Students at all levels are pushed and supported to do more than they think they can. Excellence is expected in the quality of their work and thinking.

Learning is meaningful

Students apply their skills and knowledge to real-world issues and problems and make positive change in their communities. They see the relevance of their learning and are motivated by understanding that learning has purpose. 

Learning is public

Through formal structures of presentation, exhibition, critique, and data analysis, students and teachers build a shared vision of pathways to achievement.

Learning is collaborative

School leaders, teachers, students, and families share rigorous expectations for quality work, achievement, and behavior. Trust, respect, responsibility, and joy in learning permeate the school culture.

When implemented robustly, the Expeditionary Learning core practices create school environments that promote deep engagement in learning and support students to achieve at high levels.

EL students gain skills critical to college readiness and lifelong success-literacy, numeracy, problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, persistence toward excellence, and active citizenship-as well as mastery of subject-area knowledge.


People love to explore, but how do they gain enlightenment? One approach is to start by clarifying the challenge to tackle and translating this into a specific goal.

It can be useful to state this in positive and “How to …?” terms. For example:

“How to be healthy?” rather than “How to stop smoking?”

“How to build a successful team?” rather than “How to deal with unmotivated people who are destroying the team?”

“How to build a society that gives everybody a chance to flourish?” rather than “How to change negative politicians?”

Good problem solvers clarify the real results to achieve – the real ‘What’ – before moving on to the ‘How’. Bearing in mind the challenge, they ask the following questions:

“What are the real results to achieve? What is the picture of success?”

They can then summarise the challenge in the following way.

The Picture of Success

The real results I want to achieve
– in order of priority – are:

To …

To …

To …

Different people use different approaches to making creative breakthroughs. Enlightenment comes in many different forms. It also has many different names, such as ‘epiphanies’, ‘realisations’ or ‘Aha!’ moments.

Such moments are exciting, but not all stand the test of time. Some people therefore choose to reflect, sleep on it and see if the breakthrough still resonates.

Sometimes the idea gets stronger. If so, they then decide whether or not they want to translate it into action. There are many views on how to create such moments.

Imagine that you want to make such a breakthrough. Let’s assume you have clarified the problem to solve and the picture of success. Here are some steps that you can take to find solutions.

Step One: Information Gathering
and Identifying Patterns

People often go through the stages of opening up and closing down when going through the creative process. They start by choosing a specific topic they want to explore.

They then open up and gather lots of information. Some information may immediately be relevant, some may take them along new lines of enquiry.

At a certain point they choose to close down. They sift through the information and clarify what is important. They narrow this down to the things they want to explore in greater depth. People again embark on the process of opening up and closing down.

You will have your own method for making this happen. Keep going until you feel it will be time to move on to the next stage.

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The next step is to begin to make sense of the information. One approach is:

To gather the facts and make sure you have enough information to begin making judgements.  

To step back and ask: “What is actually happening? Can I see any recurring patterns? Can I begin to understand the big picture?”

To begin putting together a framework – a model or hypothesis – that will help you to achieve your goal.

Once you feel ready, it is time to move on to the next step.

Step Two: Incubation and Imagination

Different people have different approaches to allowing ideas to incubate. You will have your own method for taking time to reflect, let things fall into place and use your imagination to find solutions.

You may choose to sleep, walk, play music, exercise, potter around, put yourself in surroundings that stimulate your senses, let your mind wander or whatever. It can also be good to clarify if there is any pattern for getting creative breakthroughs.

You may find these come after sleeping, during the early morning or at a particular time of the day. Maybe you are doing a particular activity, such as walking or gardening. Maybe you are in a particular location, such as the countryside.

There is no guarantee that doing these things will produce ideas, but it can be useful to consider the conditions that lead to such breakthroughs. Here is what one person said.

“I get my best ideas at different times. One is when running in the morning. My head feels clear and this releases my imagination.

“Running is easy at the weekends, but more difficult during the week.

“So I decided to create a 20-minute walk to my work place in London. I get off the tube two stops before I need to, buy a coffee and walk to the office.

“This helps me to recover from the crowded commuter train. I feel refreshed and able to do good work during the day.

“Another time I get ideas is when witnessing something brilliant. I love to see a superb musical, visit an art gallery or watch wildlife programmes on television.

“My mind feels stimulated. Frequently I follow up the ideas and translate these into something tangible.”

You will have your own approach to incubating ideas and using your imagination. This can lead to the next step.

Step Three: Insights and Implementation

Sometimes you experience small insights. Other times you may enjoy a huge Eureka moment. You may have a big breakthrough and see a creative way forward.

How to gain such insights? One approach is to follow the advice given by Carl Honoré. He believes it is important to set aside time to do some slow thinking. He popularised this idea in his book In Praise of Slow.

Carl is not against speed. In fact, he believes that some things need to go even faster. Many of our epiphanies, however, come from slow thinking.

Fast thinking can help to generate the pieces of the jigsaw. But slow thinking may be needed to make sense of the whole picture.

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As mentioned earlier, different people choose different ways to help things fall into place. They may go for a walk, take a few minutes thinking time, put themselves in a calming environment, enjoy a good sleep or whatever.

Insights come in different ways. Sometimes they come from working on an idea and making incremental improvements. These can lead to the doors of perception opening.

The creative breakthrough comes as a result of a steady build up, rather than depending on one transformational moment. Whatever route you take, at some point you may say:

“I can see how things come together.”

Insight can provide a springboard. You can then decide how to use the information and move to implementation. Bearing in mind the results you want to achieve, you may ask some of the following questions.

“How can I use this information? What are the specific things I can do to achieve the goal? How can translate these ideas into a clear action plan? How can I do my best to achieve the picture of success?”

There are many models for doing fine work. One approach is to go through the stages of exploration, enlightenment and then expressing what you have learned.

Looking to the future, can you think of a situation when you may want to go through these stages? You may want to make a transition, explore a field of knowledge, develop a skill, create a model that helps other people or whatever.

How can you explore this topic? How can you gather information? How can you let the ideas incubate and increase the chances of gaining enlightenment? How can you then express what you learn in your chosen way?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may aim to explore, gain enlightenment and then express what you learn in some way.  

Describe the specific things you can do to these steps in your own way.

Describe the specific things that may happen a result of taking these steps.

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