SCoPE Seminar: Informal Learning: May 15 - June 4, 2006

Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Sarah Haavind -
Number of replies: 20
From Re: Welcome Informal Learners! by gunnarbruckner on Wed May 17 11:00:00 2006:
Jay and all the others will agree that there is a huge potential to be unleashed...if only we knew how? I suggest to open a thread on very practical ideas.

Gunnar's suggestion makes sense: Let's open the tap for offering/developing/ sharing practical ideas. Since, as Gunnar points out, we're all here to discover, collaboratively invent or massage into being practical ideas that don't really exist yet, or are just emerging, don't hesitate to offer unfinished inklings, initial thoughts, new tools that seem right for the job...any and all promising, down-to-earth bits and bytes that we can collectively puzzle over and try piecing together. Possibilities?
In reply to Sarah Haavind

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Bryan Zug -
Lots to talk about and so little time -- one thing I find interesting re technology that enables informal learning is that, within organizations (inside the firewall, so to speak), one of the biggest hurdles is getting IT on board with the value of trying things out (wiki's, blogs, podcasts, etc.)

Posted this AM on an interesting IT Dept approach from the MIT Podcasting page.

MIT's ?Information Services & Technology? group is actively encouraging the exploration of podcasting as a learning tool and they go so far as to solitcit --

Submissions from members of the MIT community that are more informal, ad hoc, and open.

I find IT depts like this that encourage exploration and experimentation to be the exception rather than the rule. Most non-tech organizations are scared of words like "blogs" and "informal", etc.

One practical thing we could explore is how do we engage IT stakeholders to buy into the idea of establishing these virtual environments where informal online connections are more fluid.

In reply to Bryan Zug

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Heather Ross -

I saw Stephen Downes speak last year and he mentioned  the issue of organizations restricted the use of tech usage through such things as filters. This is a big issue with schools (and some governments) these days. His suggestion was to work around them when possible.

So many organizations are set in their top-down mindset, but honestly, in many cases those on the bottom can start the revolution. Perhaps we should be working more to educate "the little guy / gal" more. We may find that they start the online connections. Then those on the top will see the positive impact this may have.
In reply to Bryan Zug

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Gunnar Bruckner -
Dear Bryan:

You are sharing a very concrete and relevant example of an obstacle (in your case the IT folks) that, in my view, points to a larger issue: Formal Learning suggests CONTROL of some sorts and Informal Learning suggests a need for having to let go of control. Both are integral parts of an organizations Learning Culture - another continuum. From the learner perspective the prevalence of informal learning requires a much higher degree of empowerment and the ability to be a self-directed learner (learning to learn) as opposed to following a prescriped learning path. I have come to call this process the democratization of learning. This facet of Informal Learning (democratization) is not easy to accept for many companies and organizations...and sometimes for very good reasons. This is why the idea of lacking control triggers different responses from different people, IT people for example often suggest that security is an overarching need.

In practical terms, we need to take a careful look at an organizations learning culture, check out, who the players are and devise appropriate strategies for each and every case. I'd be happy to hear what tools/approaches you have used successfully to help advance an organizations learning culture. I have often wished I had a more refined toolbox available when faced with these challenges.


PS: Some of the control issues mentioned above are touched upon in my chapter from Marcia L.Conners book on "Creating a Learning Culture" that provides a recount of some experiences I was able to make as Chief Learning Officer at the United Nations Development Programme, a few years back.
Creating a Learning Culture: Strategy, Practice, and Technology or . By the way...Marcia is very, very knowledgeable about Informal Learning too...her book Learn More Now: 10 Simple Steps to Learning Better, Smarter, and Faster or is great.

In reply to Bryan Zug

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Christie Mason -

To encourage IT's involvement and support I would suggest focusing your first forays towards topics that IT would find useful and usable.

I suspect that many trainers who complain that IT won't support them haven't taken the time to learn about the processes they are promoting. If you know, or at least attempt to learn, the impact that implementing LMS/LCMS, blogs, RSS, eConferencing etc will have on their security, framework, pipes and current applications then you'll have a much easier time understanding their concerns and gaining their agreement.

Now that the training industry is co-opting and redefining IT terminology it seems that these 2 areas of expertise are becoming "separated by a common language."  The words may be the same but the concepts they represent are radically different.

Another concept that I've found useful is to be in "guest" mode.  A trainer who's requesting access to organizational IT systems is a guest within that system.  If you can't get "invited" as a guest then consider renting your own space and running a "proof of concept" process remotely.  That's also a good way to develop grassroots support and identify barriers and bumps to integrating your process with existing systems.

Christie Mason

In reply to Bryan Zug

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Nancy White -
How to enage - KEY question

Bryan, I'm wondering if some of the resistence we encounter has to do with how the concepts, ideas and possibilities are introduced. Labels create powerful preconceptions that trigger the stories in our heads about 'technology' and 'informal."

maybe we need to start telling new stories that frame these possibilities in different ways. We did this in march with a group of women leading social change movements that have grown globally. Instead of asking "how can we use tagging to share resources" we started with , "what is the greatest good that can come out of exploring new tools."

This totally shifted the conversation, which had been about how difficult learning new tools was, to wow, maybe we can really stimluate change. Then the tool exploration became a delight because we were focusing on the benefits.

If we talk about informal learning for informal learning's sake, we miss the boat.
In reply to Nancy White

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Nancy Riffer -
I want general help with learning new tools. I would like leads to "How-To" directions that guide students into using new-ish tools like blogs, wikis, RSS, tagging,, etc.

Secondly, I would like to read discussions of how the tools can be used in collaborative learning situations.

I'd appreciate any leads.
In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Christie Mason -
There are people in this discussion with a lot more familiarity with Wikis than I so I'll leave that one alone because it's something I've never been able to connect with.  I've never been a fan of blogs (unless there is a comments section) and RSS.  I think it's because those are controlled push platforms instead of pull and they're single channel.  I was just looking at an application called FeedBlitz that may overcome some of my quibbles.

I've found the online Project Management applications to be useful.  I also have some other potentially useful links under Collaboration and Content Management Systems and Social Network Analysis

But what I can't find is an application that gives me even 20% of what I consider to be the best informal learning platform available on the web today.  What is that platform?  Look at how it supplies the full range of choices from linear, static (buy the book) to unstructured (read the reviews and learn more than from the book.  There is KM participation and community (rate this book, rate the raters and "my lists") and faceted classification (I last counted 11 ways to search but that doesn't include any of the search within a search).  It's graphical and textual and contextual.  It appears learner controlled but there's a very structured control "behind the curtain".

Christie Mason
In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Nancy Riffer -


I also find one of the best resources available and for all the reasons you have stated. 

I'm intrigued by your distinction between appearing to be learner controlled and having very structured control "behind the curtain".  When I use Amazon I feel like I am in control; I can easily find myself lost in a trail of ideas and possibilities that I have followed.  I think Amazon is very structured in how it presents the information.  I am curious in what sense you see it having structured control?



In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Christie Mason -
I apologize Nancy, I've been immersed "behind the curtain" of web development for so long I forget how warped I've become because I'm always trying to see past the presentation to the organization of the content.

Web presentations occur in layers.  Very simplistically there is the presentation layer (the curtain) and there is a content layer (behind the curtain, really it's behind the stage). has tight control over the content layer and how/when one type of content relates to another type of content.  The "product" content and the "user/customer/rater" content is structured so that they can relate to each other and/or be separate and/or relate to other types of content.  Each of those relationships is well defined. tightly controlled, and rigorously enforced. then also tightly controls how this content is displayed, but they offer so many different types of display options that the user perceives that they are in control.   Only if you start to think about what you can't do and can't see do you begin to see what/how/when Amazon controls the presentation layer.

There isn't anything on the web that isn't tightly controlled "behind the curtain".  But, if the presentation "curtain" allows the user to select the color, the material, and that curtain's transparency then the user perceives they have control.  It takes more control, more layers of structure, behind the scenes to create a sense of user control than it does to offer the user no control.

I think that's why Flash had such a brief flash of popularity on the web.  Web users expect to have some control but Flash insists on total control of the content AND presentation.  That's probably also why there are only two areas where Flash usage has grown - marketing and training. 

Christie Mason

In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by minh mcCloy -
Article you might be interested in. New Scientist for week 11th March.
Can't access the whole article online unless you are a subscriber. (I'm not I just buy it & it annoying that I can't access the full online version)
That said the NS  content is fabulous.
This article:
 Welcome to open source cellphone
Some quotes
 A band of pioneers wants to do for your cellphone what Linux did for your PC

Would you pay $400 for a handful of microchips and, armed with only a circuit diagram, build your own cellphone? With elegant, powerful phones already on sale for a fraction of the price it's not something that will appeal to many.

Yet despite the cost and inconvenience, a growing group of techies are attempting to build the first practical home-made cellphones. They hope to spark greater innovation in cellphone design and, more crucially, in the software that makes the phones work. Their aim is to develop a critical mass of free software that will lead to a flowering of new cellphone applications. Some foresee phones acting as affordable hand-held computers running novel applications tailored to the needs of the developing world.

The movement is riding on the back of a burgeoning market in wireless devices for machine-to-machine communication. These devices are, in effect, stripped-down cellphones, and a typical application combines ... 

Most of the enthusiasts working on their own phones are committed to the open source ethos ........
......have teamed up to create a website called for sharing wiring diagrams.
A bloke called Surj Patel has created a cellphone application called Ringfo -   which provides cheap access to Amazon's website.
Another bloke,Tapan Parikh speaks of the advantages of cellphones over PCs -"They are cheaper, they are smaller, they have a battery, people are used to using them and they give this immediate connectivity and voice feature."
He's a computer science student at U of Washington in Seattle and speaks of the need to get a developer community together & have "some openness in experimentation" so that local developers can respond to local needs.
I think the figures are something like Internet penetration 13%, Mobile phone penetration 33%. In Africa the mobile phone is present in places the internet in its desktop/laptop guise wont reach for a long time. (if ever)
There's about 1500 words in the article - I hope I've manged to give the flavour - sooo exciting all this openness!

In reply to minh mcCloy

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Greg Verhappen -
Wow! The cellphone thing sounds very interesting...

And here, this morning, I was just wondering how something such as radio might be usefully adapted for an informal learning/teaching environment...

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Ann Busby -
But Christie, I haven't seen a way to interact with others on Amazon. Am I missing something? Thanks, Ann
In reply to Ann Busby

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Christie Mason -
Ann, I don't think you're missing anything.  I suspect it may be different interpretations of interaction.  To me, when a rater posts their view of a book they are interacting.  When others rate the usefulness of that rater's comments, they are interacting.  

The way that Amazon allows you to reindex those ratings is an interaction.

There are also content interactions.  You can search Amazon and see what other books reference a particular book.  You can search the actual content of a resource which let's you interact with that content in ways the publishers didn't intend.  Amazon suggests other resources you might find useful by supplying a structure where their product content interacts with the content they organize about their users and clients.

Part of the orginal promise of eLearning was that it would support these types of bidirectional interactions
  •    learner <-> learner
  •    expert/content <-> learner
  •    expert/content <-> expert/content.
The Amazon structure is very strong on supporting learner <-> learner interactions and weaker in other spheres, but it's the closest practical example I've found to show what supporting informal learning processes online could be because the learner can also create and expose content.

No matter how many games a training session may include it's still very one directional 
Expert >>>> learner.

Hope that helps clarify how I'm defining interaction.

Christie Mason

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Ann Busby -

Sure, Christie, I understand. It also just dawned on me that Amazon searches for other books similar in interest/content to what you've either browsed or purchased. Not many sites can say that. Netflix does, but not as well, as least in my experience :)

I didn't think about being able to manipulate content as you were discussing. That's a good point. Because in that maniuplation, I'm bound to learn something I didn't know before-maybe even something useful-though not always.

I was just reflecting how interesting it is that the memory doesn't keep "knowledge nuggets" around unless they are useful. I love collecting stuff-and knowledge nuggets are some of my favorite collectibles. Unfortunately, like the old saying, "use it or lose it" (or perhaps it's CRS :) Anyway, my mind won't let me keep putting stuff up in there unless I'm going to use it. It starts cleaning house-and dumping unused content. And sometimes, even stuff I use all the time (like where did I put those keys?)

Wouldn't it be nice to be able to compartmentalize and recall all that we've learned?

In reply to Christie Mason

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Nancy White -
If we are espousing informal learning, does it mean we might redefine what "expert" means? Can it become a more horizontal and thus available construct? Practice?
In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas

by Nancy White -
Tools and informal learning practices

I keep saving your message, Nancy, intending to "come back when I have time" to answer thoughtfully, because there is some really interesting work going on in this area.

I'm working on a project with Etienne Wenger and John Smith around technologies for communities - mostly within the context of communities of practice -- and we have been observing some really interesting patterns that have informed our thinking. Some of them include:

  • online collaboration tools are designed for communities, but experienced by individual. Thus our preferences, practices and styles are key  predictors of our experience of a tool, but they may be very different than those we are collaborating with. Make it complicated in some sense, if we are focusing on the learning from the group perspective.
  • if we focus from the individual perspective, the range of tools gives us choice to aggregate and share in different ways. So we have much more freedom and independence which suggests more of a network structure than a community (more negotiated) structure.
Bottom line, the new tools offer us a veritable playground that is still largely enexplored from these various perspectives (individual/group/network)

In reply to Nancy Riffer

Re: How-to-use instructions for blogs, wikis, RSS, tagging,

by David Millar -
Re Nancy White's question:
From my own experience, I would suggest Wikipedia as a first reference for any online tool, since it gives some history and context as well as how-to-use. A
Wikipedia link will often come up in any Google or other metasearch of the tool's name or purpose. It's a good idea to suggest students use Wikipedia first as an introductory and "help" source.

The trouble with the built-in "help" links on specific tools is that the creators often haven't foreseen all the possible uses, nor do they offer the clearest user guide. Experienced outside users often do better. Wikipedia is a peer-review of new online tools
(in this sense only, not as an academic evaluation).

Personally, I always use and evaluate ANY site or tool before recommending it to students.

See also
excellent academic evaluations in Public History Resource Center and Scout Reports
In reply to Bryan Zug

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas - in business

by David Millar -
[my interpretation] F2F a waste of time, say business people
Implicit support for Bryan Zug's plea for more e-conferencing comes in an article in 19 May 2006 Montreal Gazette p.C1 "People want less face time, poll finds".

A Decima poll of 1193 Canadian office workers found that 61% wanted fewer F2F business meetings, citing time wasted and travel costs. 38% said all such meetings were unnecessary, that they preferred email or videoconferencing. Of the 59% who teleconferenced, 2/3 said their work-life balance was better because it avoided travel; 3/4 said they were more productive or efficient.

The youngest cohort (age 18-24) said they would use the time saved to go online in the office to friends and family. [This could be defined as IL, or chat at the water cooler, or using company equipment for personal reasons -- take your pick]. 51%
of the whole poll said personal needs would get priority. 49%  said they would use the time saved for new business projects. [So the corporation gets about half of the benefit.]

[I emphasize again that the "personal" networking may still include IL vital to the employer. Gossip with as wide a range of people as possible is often how we pick up new ideas.]

In reply to David Millar

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas - in business

by chris macrae -

I think as parents we'd be out of our minds if we expect children to master audio or video before reading, writing, searching and spacing. Its a matter of get the interactions of these 4 deeply rehearsed before adolescence and you (individually and colaboratively with peers) can confidently network anywhere

all these 4 interact subtly with each other and I am not sure a school exists that deeply connects all 4 in time for 11 year olds to action-learn-network-contextualise-...; how do you maximise real*virtual lives; which mode is best for what -ok real meeting gain trust and depth in ways that virtual modes never van but only one person can talk at a time in real meetings whereas virtual jams can have hundreds inputting as long as you value the searching after -find one great webjam net and get kids to study how it builds, by all means translate down to their age key ideas which they could all connect in a weblog  -eg what would a ten year old's class learnings of what's going on at build up as if they all filed views into the same web-log, hosted their own mini-discussions as well as having a teacher pull ideas together at sensemaking intervals  

a few more notes: I don't believe I understand some learning I have read about it until I have tried to write about it but not in some artificial calss exam but because I wanted to discuss it with a penfriend

if we keep to email we can find many pen friends and connect many classes if we choose one jam web to be childrens reportes on; if we add in practice of search we can scan so many different texts (which you cannot truly do with video and audio) and you can cut and past your own memory banks; but most tragic of all is not to train our kids to know how to host circular meetings - I will amplify that at and

In reply to chris macrae

Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas - in the classroom

by Susanne Nyrop -
Hm, all the time during this talk about informal learning and the enviroments and strategies that could support them , my mind wanders back to the French pioneer school leader Celéstin Freinet (from the 1920's to 1960's, working with the shared interest complex within the community of school classes  - and connecting to the outside, in the village. In the Freinet classroom community movement the free texts are key and there is very little mandatory content to be taught, as the everyday life would inspire what's the turning point.  Children who could not yet read started printing their own stories, with some help of older school mates.  And camera and tape recorder are very useful tools. Knowing these traditions from first hand experience from an internship period in a Danish Freinet school in 1981, I found that computers and email would likely be part of schools fifteen years later, and after some online searching I found six village schools  in France and asked for invitations to visit and exchange ideas.  I spent three eye opening and amazing weeks getting to know some of the most enthusiast teachers I've ever met, as well as some of the most excellent little curious and creative researchers age ranking from 5 to 12.

I wanted to find an introduction text about  the Freinet movement and discovered a video project with a Dutch background (A must dig deeper some day soon site).