How did the great explorers from the past (Stanley, Amundsen, Scott…) proceed? Did they know precisely in advance what to look for and where to go? Or was it joy in the endeavor and challenge itself that drove them? Searching, exploring can be fun. The thing is: without some sort of a plan you will be lost soon. Even more so; without some prior knowledge of what to look for, and how to interpret what you find you will end up nowhere. This is nicely illustrated in the conversation Socrates had with a slave boy called Meno. Trying to explain a problem to someone without any prior familiarity with it is doomed to fail and Plato (who documented the conversation) interprets this as learning not being a matter of discovering something new but rather of recollecting something the soul knew before birth but has since forgotten.
I wondered if this would apply to the study cited. Students having a strong mastery orientation (“want to learn”) no doubt must have encountered difficulty when the task is relatively new (and all good instructional tasks should be). Having adequate problem solving strategies helps to approach the task but may not necessarily be enough to conquer the task. Therefore, just exploring could put them off track (with considerable consequences for the teacher to bring them back on track again) .
Put otherwise : there is a third compass needed in completing the travel: 1) learning style/preference/approach/orientation of the student (1) ; next to 2) task specific, instruction based problem solving strategies (2) , next to 3) student prior knowledge gained from previous instruction. I suppose exploration will be successful within already familiar tasks (just following Plato here) .
Exploring in a performance orientation simply is counterintuitive for these students. For them a task which is not dealt before in previous instruction should be taught first (building up prior knowledge); then relevant strategies might work to cope with the task.
In order to travel a landscape you need a goal (an orientation), a plan (previous knowledge), and a route (problem solving strategies); but having all three is no guarantee you get there.
Achievement motivation and knowledge development during exploratory learning by Daniel A. De Caro, Marci S. De Caro , Bethany Rittle-Johnson Learning and Individual Differences 37 (2015) 13–26.
Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2014.10.0151041-6080 /© 2014 Published by Elsevier Inc.