Greyscale Learning or “How We Are Different”

I am often asked: “So, how are you different?” For a long time, I didn’t find that question easy to answer. There are, of course, many online learning platforms out there, each offering different courses. But from the outside it is difficult to tell them apart. So my answer would usually evolve into a short briefing on the education technology market, which, to be honest, few people care to hear. Today, my response to that question is simple: “We focus on what we call greyscale learning.”

This means that our effective instructional design places a strong emphasis on topics where there is no simple right or wrong answer. Learning on iversity is not about reproducing the “correct” response. It’s not about 0 or 1, yes or no. It’s about the many shades of grey in between. It’s about the “I would do it like this, because…” and “I would do it like that, because…”. Our courses are designed to create an open and explorative social learning environment. A safe space for people to come together in order to negotiate truth, stating not just their position, but also the facts and arguments that let them arrive at a particular conclusion.

Greyscale learning: The spectrum of learning features many shades of grey

What does this mean in practice? Our courses go beyond teaching you the basics. We want you to learn more than what you need to learn in order to be able to answer multiple-choice questions (although you may well encounter them as part of a course). Greyscale learning makes you look at an issue from multiple perspectives. It makes you realise that there is not just one correct solution. There may be an almost infinite number of solutions. And whether or not something is “correct” very often depends on the context. It’s about collectively contemplating the true meaning of “doing the right things, right.”

What Professional Learning Can Learn From the Humanities

To people who studied humanities or certain social sciences, all of this will not only seem familiar, but in fact appears to be the essence of teaching and learning in higher education. Now, I would like to argue (and have done so before in a publication on the university in the 21st century) that this approach to learning applies not only to theoretical learning in the humanities. I am convinced that it also lies at the core of eminently practical professional learning. Take programming education as an example. To many people, this seems about as far removed as can be imagined from the discursive uncertainty of a seminar in the humanities. But, beyond the basics, the two have more in common than one may think.

Greyscale Learning: Reality Comes in Many Shades of Grey

Of course, it is important to learn basic syntax. And as far as this is concerned, there clearly are answers that are either right or wrong. But as you move into architecture or usability, the picture becomes a lot more blurry. Do you want to optimise for security, ease of use, or speed? Different priorities lead to different setups, which will yield different results. As soon as you face trade-offs between different priorities, an optimal solution will often not exist. People will argue about the ideal solution. They will argue one way or another, citing certain specifics of the case or problem to solve. Suddenly, context matters, and it becomes clear that there will not be one correct answer, but many alternative solutions – each with its own merits and shortcomings.

What this example illustrates is that even for a discipline that is quintessentially all about 1s and 0s, unambiguous clarity soon yields to messy complexity as we move from theoretical basics to practical application. This is not just one odd case. It is true of all domains of knowledge.

Ultimately succeeding in business is not about solving theoretical exercises, but about finding workable solutions to complex practical problems. Therefore, I believe that greyscale learning – which does not stop at the former, but focuses on the latter –  is the future of professional education.