These are my attempts
(based on my own experience) to define and clarify some of the concepts under discussion. It
might be useful if those with differing ideas would state not only that they
disagree, but based on what experience or personal story. I have numbered the list
of possible topics in case we want separate threads for them. Feel free to add
to these numbered topics. David Millar, of Victoria and Montreal
Formal learning: is school & curriculum-based education (with printed texts and tests, lesson plans with fixed outcomes, disciplinary boundaries), for large groups, and age-specific. Each of these built-in assumptions denotes a severe limitation compared to other kinds of teaching e.g. discovery, peer-to-peer, the ?multiple intelligence? approach of Howard Gardner(1) Usually sets quantitative / behavioural objectives (Malcolm Knowles), sometimes with additional reference to Maslow?s schema of human needs, which are rarely defined in a way that can be verified as a ?learning outcome?.
Needs examination of drop-out rates and their causes: though research is almost entirely lacking, spotty data and my teaching as a sessional in several universities suggests that 25%-33% of all admitted students are incapable of literate and organized writing, so much so that they are simply incapable of rational exposition.Smith, M. K. (2002) 'Howard Gardner and multiple intelligences', the encyclopedia of informal education, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/gardner.htm last updated: 28 Jan 2006;http://adulted.about.com/cs/learningtheory/a/gardner_MIT.htm
About.com on adult learning theory http://adulted.about.com/od/adultlearningtheory/Needs examination of drop-out rates and their causes: in one DL university where I worked fewer than 20% of students (most of them highly motivated mid-career adults seeking certification) completed courses of all kinds; the 80% dropout was considered normal [sic! ]
Albert Bandura, Self Efficacy: The Exercise of Control, 1977. and Social Foundations of Thought and Action: A Social Cognitive Theory, 1986.Retention will be increased by story-telling, seeing, and doing (approximations of real-life experience) Summa cum avaritia: plucking a profit from the groves of academe, Nick Bromell, Harper?s Magazine, February 2002 and Us Versus Them: Laboring in the Academic Factory, Michael Yates, Monthly Review, January 2000.
- The European Community?s attempt to validate informal learning, defined as lived experience in ?daily life activities related to work, family or leisure? (p.27) appears to be only paper certification of previously acquired skills or competencies (Table 5, pp.152-156) . In other words, the formal education system (state, professional or corporate) formally recognizes that learning ?outside the bounds? has been achieved. This is not news. Some crucial questions (p. 112) are raised about by whom & what power structures, and how the certification/validation/accreditation is made, which remain unanswered. EEC-CEDEFOP ?The Learning Community: European inventory on validating non-formal and informal learning?, 2005 http://www2.trainingvillage.gr/etv/publication/download/panorama/5164_en.pdf
Some answers are attempted in SEEQUEL-TQL Guide for Informal Learning, 2004 http://www.education-observatories.net/seequel/SEEQUEL-TQM_Guide_for_informal_learning.pdf
- The ?social networking? of radical NGOs on the internet is one of the few hopeful signs. See http://www.globalexchange.org/campaigns/wto/OpposeWTO.html
- There is a huge ongoing debate about this phenomenon in Delicious, see http://del.icio.us/search/?all=social+networking a mishmash list of software, wiki, blogs, CIA spying methods, teen and adult matchmaking. See items marked tagging, folksonomy, and social bookmarking, which are probably the most relevant to our discussion.
Some specific kinds of informal learning we might discuss:
- Discovery learning, curiosity
- Child?s play
- Multiple intelligences (H. Gardner)
- David A Kolb?s ?experiential education? http://fcis.oise.utoronto.ca/~dschugurensky/faqs/qa8.html
- Open-ended, lifelong
- ?Free university?: any good model? Success rates? In what specialty or discipline? Cf New School of Social Research NYC, Berlin Free University, Black Mountain. Danish Folkschule (I don?t know enough about them)
- ?free? NGO research groups: e.g. CorpWatch, PIRGs, environmentalists
- (other) good examples of informal learning? SCoPE participants can decide for themselves to relate them to the topics above, or establish new numbered topics, e.g.
- Ann Busby?s post on - sharing, incidental, tacit, and unconscious learning [I could comment on various types of the the ?non-dit? unsaid, unsayable etc on which I published several papers]
- Bryan Zug - self-correcting, stabilizing, elearning ecosystems
- Chris Macrae - action learning
- Stephanie Chu - definitions of different learning communities
- Nancy Riffer ? world internet conference [in my experience, gossip in the corridors was always the crucial element of scholarly conferences; what is the Internet equivalent? See also James Gleick?s account of gossip networks vs scientific publication in Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman (1992)]
- Elhanan Gazit ? learning in MMOGs and space science Futurelab website (cf. my comments above on interactive learning]
- Gunnar Bruckner ? EEC validation [cf. topic 9 above]
My incomplete list
of other useful resources
found while writing the above comments
- About.com on adult learning http://adulted.about.com/od/adultlearning/
- Athabasca Univ RIDE [currently unavailable, maintained by DE students]
- CASAE http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/CASAE/maineng.html Resources for Research, last update appears to be 1998
- D?Arcy Martin ?Building Capacity, Caring and Craft? (1996) http://www.web.net/~darcym/capacity.html rethinking by a labour educator with years of experience
- INFED bibliography on informal education by Mark K Smith ca. 1998 http://www.infed.org/lifelonglearning/b-aeprin.htm
- INTIME checklists and bibliography by T. Martin 2001 http://www.intime.uni.edu/model/learning/info.html
- Stephen Downes, ?Some principles of effective e-learning,? 2005 http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?db=post&q=crdate=1114559592&format=full
- Review of Straka, Gerald A. ?Informal learning: genealogy, concepts, antagonisms and queestions? (2004) http://www.elearning-reviews.org/topics/pedagogy/educational-principles/2004-straka-informal-learning-genealogy-concepts-antagonisms-questions/
- More may be found by Googling or other metasearch engine « principles of informal learning »
Informal learning and formal learning are at opposite ends of a spectrum of learning overall.
Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs. Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment?s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider.
Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. People new to the territory often ride the bus before hopping on the bike.
Traditional training departments put almost all of their energy into driving busses. For experienced workers, most bus rides are as inappropriate as kindergarten classes. Mature learners, typically a company's top performers, never show up for the bus. They prefer pointers that enable them to do things for themselves.
Learning is what enables people to participate successfully in life and work. It is a knowledge-age survival skill.
In the introductions topic, someone asked about how formal and informal mesh with tacit and explicit knowledge. Often, formal learning is more appropriate for explicit knowledge, and informal for tacit knowledge. You don't learn algebra (explicit) by watching people do math; you don't learn to ride a bicycle (tacit knowledge) by reading a book.
I really like David's point about apprenticeship; it wasn't idyllic. The EU's paper on certification was, to my pragmatic way of thinking, a step backwards -- it documents the status quo without offering any solutions.
Other areas of exploration that I've used are SNA - Social Network Analysis, KM - Knowledge Management (esp faceted classification), Constructionist learning theories, and anything dealing with web interactions and content management.
My working definition of informal learning is that it is learner controlled as to time and place. It occurs when a learner determines that they don't know what they need to know, which leads that learner to initiate a quest for content resources that they respect and trust.
There can be a structure supplied to support informal learning but that structure is as different from traditional training structures as the web is different than a printed book.
As we are getting started with defining the notion of informal learning, I have included a link on Malcolm Knowles who has defined informal learning in regard to adult education. Typologies of adult education typically include these categories:
- formal education
- informal and
- self-directed learning
I'm skeptical of the notion of learner-control. (I used to be a big advocate.) I believe a lot of things just happen; they're not under anyone's control. Think of unintentional learning, for example. Marcia Conner opened my eyes to learning without a quest. It's more aborption than something you're actively looking for.
The structure I envision for support of informal learning is an ecosystem, a platform, something I've been calling a learnscape.
I have to stand with my learner-controlled requirement as opposed to teacher/trainer controlled. Yes, there are topics and timing that may force a teacher/trainer controlled presentation but I can still decide not to learn.
I don't know how you would structure your platform. There really is a surprising dearth of trustworthy information about how people learn. About the only thing we do know is that different people learn in different ways and no individual uses the same way to learn every time. I see a continuum of presentation types that would be easy to accomplish using web standard tools but impossible to accomplish using what passes as "eLearning" training tools.
The same content could be offered in different shades of presentations from the red of typical, static, linear "Click Next Button" to the blue of Googlized search and the many shades of purple between the two end points. Controlled to guided to filtered to unstructured. The learner controls their own mix of content and presentation type.
eCommerce sites do it all the time for their consumers, no reason why the same couldn't be done to support organizational/instituitional/individual learning.
Love your color analogy and can visualize the slider from red to blue.
But Jay, if you provide a platform, you're still selecting content, which is still, IMHO formal offerings.
I like the idea of a "learnscape" but how in the world could one offer something for everyone?
I also like the delineation of unintentional learning. We do learn stuff when we didn't mean to, and much of it is because of the fast-pace of change (and it's informal, maybe a subset of informal). Maybe what we (learners) need to be worried about is how to know what to change so we can adapt? Maybe we need to use experience and prior knowledge to help us metamorphose-but we're still not sure what's expected, so we "guestimate." And what is it we need to "unlearn" so we can learn new? And how do we determine "it?"
We know that what we knew yesterday probably won't help us tomorrow. Technology is enabling us to change even every-day items like phones, other electronics, household help machinery (vaccuums, stoves, etc). Nowadays it's not "program your VCR" that's challenging, it's programming your smart home-or maybe not. Saw a programmable keyboard on TV last night-took 15 minutes for a graphic artist to program her most-used keystrokes to one key-instant 1-hand keyboard, with instantaneous instructions. Now she has her left hand on the keyboard and the right on a joystick. Now it's eye-hand coordination that's the challenge :)
This is fun! Ann
Ann, the questions you raise about knowing what to change, unlearning, and making technology serve us are important and challenging. I'd like to keep these in the air during our campfire sessions.
What happens if we replace informal with idiosyncratic?
Something neurological is going to be at the centre of THE definition of learning. My neurological processes are demonstrably unique. All my learning is idiosyncratic.
This leaves the formal/informal continuum/dichotomy as a situational/contextual issue. Our job then is to support individual learning processes - identify styles & intelligences, support & enhance & help develop personal processes & aim for redundancy - as in "You don't need me? Oh good I'll leave you to it."
Also could someone please elaborate on capacity building. I haven't yet got a sense of it in this context.
I share your desire to hear more about capacity building. Tough to visualize it.
I have been following this thread for the last week or so and found this was the appropriate time to interject a concern/question.
If I am interpreting the idea of one-off phenomena correctly, all learners would fall into one-off categories thus making any type of experimental research impossible. I make this statement based upon the presumption that one of the goals of defining informal learning is to be able to create a process whereby researchers can study informal learning and make generalizations from their findings?
If this is the case, I think researchers in this emerging field will be sorely disappointed with their inability to generalize any types of findings based upon the plethora of variables that impact an individual's learning.
If this is not the case, I will go back to the periphery and read more to try and gain a better understanding of this phenomena.
I endeavour to familiarise the children (learners) with their own learning styles, strengths, challenges, intelligences. Each is unique there is no generalised way to deal with them properly.
There was a boy. We shall call him Dom. What Dom & I had worked out about him was that he needed to move to learn. Secondary school loomed. The freedom of movement I might be able to give him in an open plan classroom was NOT going to be available to him in the following year.
Over time we scaled down his need to move from wriggling to squeezing a ball to doodling. When Dom left for high school he knew a lot more than that about himself & his learning needs but I use that one element to try & illustrate the point.
Was it the Delphic Oracle that had Know Thyself over its entrance?
I like your analogy about the bus. I think that a lot of informal learning occurs in discussions between peers and colleagues. Then didn't necessarily set out to learn anything, it just happens through the course of discussion. This is why I believe that discussion boards in distance education are so vital. Learners otherwise miss out on that informal learning that happens in class discussions and those that occur in the hallway or around the water cooler.
When geeks meet to talk tech, they invariably set up a back channel. This discussion (often in Internet Relay Chat) drifts in and out of the on-going discussion. It's as if you could have hallway discussions while still in class.
If we harness informal learning, intentionally bring strategies into our set of learning tools - then is it still informal learning or is it an informal practice pressed into a formal mould? Would it still look or be informal?
Perhaps we could honor informal learning better if we acknowledged individual informal learning the way vocational programs and workplaces acknowledge people's knowledge from having acted successfully in a certain capacity - recognition of prior learning it is called in Australia but could easily be recognition of informal learning.
In biological terms, we think this occurs when a mutation (and example of learning?) happens to fit with an evolving environment. However, in a complex system (such as an organization or society) one cannot fully predict what those evolutions will be, nor which mutations (learning) will be particularly valuable.
The other way we use adaptation in common speech is to explain reactive behaviour. We are told to work with new curricula; we adapt. We travel in a country with different norms; we adapt. This excludes the whole concept of capacity building. Our performance-oriented society much prefers to tie formal [reactive] learning to known facts, and often questions investment in capacity-building, leaving that to the realm of the informal.
I don't mean knuckling under. I'm thinking more along the lines of co-creation. Things change; organisms adapt or die.
Lately I've been contemplating how our views of learning must change to fit a new world. We used to take the world as a given. Change meant we had to change (because the world or our authority figures were not going to.)
Today's world is moving so fast, it's more important to know how to keep in sync than to know the vestiges of what used to work. You don't find it in the library. It's improv.
Does capacity-building capture the idea that both knowledge and the learner are changing continuously? The capacity concept makes me think (perhaps erroniously) about the learner in isolation.
I think there is -- at least metaphorically -- a big difference between "a mutation (and example of learning?) occuring, which happens to fit with an evolving environment," and "The ecosystem changes; the organism changes; they prosper together." The former is -- to the best of our knowledge -- what happens in nature.
But let's begin with the latter, which I referred to as "the other way we use adaptation in common speech --- to explain reactive behaviour."
I think any approach to teaching/learning can be valid for the range of changes to which we need to react. Basic first aid training changes when there is new research about CPR effectiveness; astronauts on Apollo 13 reacted, learned and created on the spot when they encountered crises. So far, I think we are on the same page?
To me, this reaction to change approach implies some degree of order, predictability and intentionality. You expect that skills with Moodle will be helpful in an e-learning career because Moodle use is growing, so you hang out with Moodle people and use Moodle and read about Moodle etc., which makes you more skilled and marketable. As you say, "Things change; organisms adapt or die." And all this is absolutely valid, some of the time.
But in a Darwinian sense, organisms change AND die because many changes don't end up being adaptive, and -- in most cases -- we have no idea which changes will be adaptive. Which means (at least metaphorically) that we need lots of diversity (views, knowledge, skills, values...) in a changing environment. (I feel as if this statement is obvious, but so unlike the way we think about curriculum and learning that it needs a chapter of description, but I'll leave it as is for now).
So, I think this is a segue to the capacity-building part of my post, which relates to building this diversity, and -- again -- often in ways that recognize we cannot predict what mutations [learning] will be critical. I guess there would be people who say capacity building is a solitary process, just as there are people who say that of organizational learning. With my background and biases, I would say it is a supremely social process in which there is more emphasis on relationships and knowledge flow than on individuals' retention of facts.
Have I explained my ideas any more clearly?
I think we need a new kind of learning that goes beyond adaptation to change. Many of the decisions we need to make now as a society will have irreversible consequences. We cannot wait to learn from experience. We have to learn in ways that allow us to get beyond our experience and feedback we get from our environment.
I have in mind consequences like the melting of the polar ice caps, the loss of genetic diversity, how long a perspective we take in making decisions (e.g., short term outcomes vs. anticipating the consequences for seven generations) and the consequences of not understanding the points of view of others.
I think imagination is one aspect of the kind of learning we need to invent. Also playfulness, non-linear thinking. I think it will be learner directed. I once visited a resource center for teachers in the Chicago area. It was a store front with all kinds of materials and examples of creative work that teachers had done. It was a source of ideas and stimulation for any teachers who chose to use it. Will we need to create learning playgrounds where people can explore alternative ways of learning together?
Does anybody have ideas about what learning would look like that helps us get out ahead of where we can learn from trial and error? What might such a "playground" look like?
A question, and I don't mean to be argumentative. I wrote "The ecosystem changes; the organism changes; they prosper together." While overlooking how this comes about, isn't this a fair description of the end result?
A question, and I don't mean to be argumentative. I wrote "The ecosystem changes; the organism changes; they prosper together." While overlooking how this comes about, isn't this a fair description of the end result?
I will assume we are talking about our application of these ideas in the sphere of learning...
What I am trying to push here a bit is the idea of whether we are talking about predictable environments, complex environments or perhaps even chaotic environments. I am doing so because I think that formal, non-formal and informal learning (etc.) can all work well in relatively predictable environments, but that formal learning tends to be poorly suited to complex or chaotic environments. As one example of how I've applied my thinking here, in some curriculum design work I did a few years ago, two online courses were often offered back to back in a MA program. The one focusing on intellectual property and intellectual capital was reasonably formal, (with room for customization in how assignments were done because they were assessed using learning outcomes). This formality was used because there are "facts" and "best practices" in law, accounting etc. in these fields. The other course was about communities of practice (CoP). Because CoPs are complex self-governing places for emergent learning, I tried to make a credit course as coherent with those principles as possible, and much of the learning was relatively informal. Adaptation was a constant, multi-directional dance. People (learners, faciliators, guests, employers) were often surprised by the accidental benefits, directions and learning.
The way I interpret "The ecosystem changes; the organism changes; they prosper together" is that there is a notable degree of predictability and intent. In other words, it sounds like a predictable environment. The ecosystem changes (e.g., some social technologies appear); the interested organism changes with a relatively high success rate (people decide to learn how to use them to do important things) and they prosper together - because we all knew that collaboration over distances could help us accomplish things in new ways.
In a complex environment, I think different words are needed. Of course we are struggling -- as a society -- with how to research, know, teach and learn in spaces where there is no way of knowing what's next. So it isn't surprising that we struggle with articulating the concepts.
Complex adaptive systems abound. The world is inherently unpredictable. The rate of change is accelerating. Increasing complexity is crowding out the situations where rigid formal learning is appropriate. This is why I advocate raising the profile of informal learning.
You and I appear to be in agreement on where and when formal or informal learning are useful; I am probably more extreme in my views that few phenomena in life are really simple at all.
I agree that we need a better vocabulary for describing these things. That's why I write about free-range learners and learnscapes. It brings a smile to my face to read your description of learning in a community of practice: "Adaptation was a constant, multi-directional dance." When I defined learning as adaptation a few paragraphs back, it didn't play very well.
That's one of many reasons I'm here... looking for ideas of how to informalize the formal.
Chris Macrae has written:
It's also my belief that I should mentor my 9 year old to find one web she wants to be a collaboration epicentre of by 15 and help as many of her peers to do likewise; ...
Chris can you expand on this. I've read all your posts but I'd like the intimacy of your intentions. I have been given an 8 year old girl to mentor. I taught her father when he was her age & so it goes down the ages. She will remain at school but we will begin to explore her prospects.
The process will be profoundly informal but sometimes highly structured. We are starting with visual literacies - so underdone by schools in such a highly visual age.
Your statement above so precisely encapsulates my perspective that I feel that you & I must have been separated at birth. :)
More from you please Chris.
there are several views that come together in my mind that suggest we need to wholly change education, and most of them seem to me to be pattern rules of informal learning or experiencing
1) personally I LEARN (and get really energised to ask questions and deep understanding alive with practical meaning, serving someone else's need or understanding how truth various with context) BY travelling through actual experiences, not being examined on someone else's facts; moreover the internet makes travelling and questioning so much easier for everyone to do now
secondly, there seems to be a residual belief that top people in the future will continue to manage other people; this is dead wrong in any real service economy business and even more wrong in knowledge co-worker businesses - at least acccording to Drucker in the latter case and my dad in service sectors http://www.normanmacrae.com/intrapreneur.html
third, before the net your deepest mentors through life depended on your luck in who was near you: parents, what access you had to work locally etc; I strongly believe we should teach practice on the net as a hunt for your deepest mentors through life and helping others likewise where many of these mentors will not be near you geographically (at least not when you get to know of their competence and vice versa);
people (entrepreneurs , social) entrepreneurs etc who are changing vibrant social needs in community such as at www.changemakers.net say that its the young who love to help out in many of their projects- let's move away with dumbing down our youth with tb spectator supports and get on with humanity's olympics http://social-entrepreneur.blogspot.com http://www.pledgebank.com/bbcgames http://project30000.blogspot.com
do we give kids training in how to host a conversation; I personally dont think a person has lived what conversations can do without trying out Harrison Owen's open space method; and once you do feel this method shows you a different way to converse with people, you ask why on earth not let kids get self-confident with hosting dialogues early ,eg at 10 year. why don't we empower everyone to feel they can be an idea-maker, a change-maker, capable of collaborating in making a difference
instead of being examined by do you get 100 out of 100 on separated facts maybe in the future people will look at the connective flows on your web and the map of who you have permission to connect with and what patterns there are there; you dont need to know everything yourself , you do need the trust of a cluster of people who as a combination can know far more than any one person can
I am not saying all the above gives a complete plan but they indicate that we (as parents not as the state trying to come up with one perfect syllabus) might step back and say the best way to educate kids from 9 up today is not what it was even 10 years ago now we have the net, ever richer co-searching, etc
It takes the child's interests seriously. Children are treated as knowledge creators/ collectors, as being capable of talking to mentors who may be well known in their fields, as able to make things happen on something they care terribly about. I wish I could have done this for my daughter when she was nine and was terribly distressed about the damage being done to our environment. She begged me to help her found a club and find a way kids could make a difference. We didn't do it.
Maybe a web of connections she could have created on the internet could have supported her in ways I couldn't.
When I was in high school (1958-62) I went to meetings of the Detroit Fair Housing council on my own in the evening. I met with city movers and shakers as we planned for next steps to improve the integration of housing in Detroit. I see Chris' ideas on how to teach his daughter (and others) as affording them opportunities to be taken as seriously as I was.
I think there is room for parent(teacher) and child to find approaches to the relevant learning that suit a particular child's learning style e.g., e-mail, organizing chats, three way telephone conversations, blogs, communities, networks, leading a community of practice to interviewing people who are social entrepreneurs. Audio and video contributions are not far behind -- podcasts, videoblogs and other things we can't imagine.
This kind of a network of learning experiences would be an alternative to an e-portfolio-- a freer form and informal.
Depth and breadth over time interest me. Are they suitable for all children? If we assume creating a five year in-depth experience is possible is it appropriate for all children? What about children's needs to explore and change direction and to stop and start?
How do we go about turning the current K-6 demographic into autonomous, self-directed, self- managing, self organising learners by the time they're 16?
I also have long admired the qualities Christie and Ann have observed about amazon.com over in the "Practical Ideas" discussion: Amazon's way with pushing the technology (formal) structures and tools to involve or engage visitors in ways that both mirror and improve upon the informal actions we might naturally take in a bookstore: leafing through the table of contents and a few pages of text, looking around on the shelf at other books on the same or similar topics, wandering over to the bookseller?s employees? ?top picks of the week? table. Emails about new books on topics that interest me, a personal greeting and opening web page that automatically shows books related to those I have purchased in the past, a savable shopping cart for future purchases, listmania, these are unparalleled personalized services that I could never expect of any local bookstore.
Holding such edgy affordances provided by technology up together with the possibilities for any person or group learning about anything, not just books ? is there a fruitful boundary somewhere here between the forest of chaos and the meadow of patterns we recognize? Where will future refinements of the new ?pull? technologies such as RSS take us, might such new nets and filters take us where we want to go?
...autonomous, self-directed, self- managing, self organising learners ...
I was just wondering to what extent I have been tautological. What happens if we tease out the meaning of those 5 concepts?
I'll just pop over to Wikipedia & have a look.
self-managing Interesting. Wikipedia gives references to libertarianism & workers. (And Google gives refs to Wikipedia) Not much specifically on learning.
self-organising http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-organisation Lots on this one. Just love this:
Self-organization is a process in which the internal organization of a system, normally an open system, increases in complexity without being guided or managed by an outside source. Self-organizing systems typically (though not always) display emergent properties.
How do we go about turning the current K-6 demographic into autonomous, self-directed, self- managing, self organising learners by the time they're 16?
This is interesting because I was having a conversation about this on my blogonly last week (see Being Successful). Personally, I'm of the opinion that we don't necessarily need to figure out a way to turn our students into these types of learners, but we need to do a better job of designing e-learning experiences so that all learners (regardless if they have these characteristics or not) have access to the opportunities. Let's just bring the mountain to the students instead of making them conform to what is required by the mountain.
You wrote: "The way I interpret "The ecosystem changes; the organism changes; they prosper together" is that there is a notable degree of predictability and intent...In a complex environment, I think different words are needed."
I prefer Protugali's SIRN Model broad vocabulary which refers to "Interplay between internal and external representations".
Portugali, J. (2002). The Seven Basic Propositions of SIRN (Synergetic Inter-Representation Networks). Nonlinear Phenomena in Complex Systems, 5 (4), 428-444.
What's made you put informal and formal learning as a bipolar construct?
I do not see them this way, especially when I look at my own learning trajectory.
In fact, Id' be curious to see how people classify the following example:
I've just finished co-teaching a course on Preparing for an Academic Career... the key outcome of this was to help PhD's and Postdocs make a more informed choice about a career in academia vs the corporate world. The course was face-to-face but like a lot of courses these days, we used a course management system to support/extend it.
One of the things I did was to bookmark sites in del.icio.us with the course code and then using Alan Levine's Feed2JS script, had this show up as a webpage inside the course management system. The links that I added with the course code tag came from my rss subscriptions, email listservs and a few Google searches. The students used these a lot even though I wasn't asking them to check specific links out. I found out about Feedblitz a week ago and have just set up a feedblitz email link on the same webpage inside the course management system, so they can sign up for email notification of updates (bypassing RSS completely right now .. although enxt time I would like to get them social bookmarking and tagging). They've already asked to continue and we have suggested meeting once a month over lunch as a small, but hopefully growing community, so we may come back to blogs, wikis, podcasts and all the other read/write web stuff later.
So how would you classify this in terms fo formal and informal? For me, it's a little but like weaving informal learning opportunites into formal learning ... but maybe this isn't the most productive perspective. Your thoughts folks?
Describing the degree of formality or informality involves taking readings along many dimensions. The ones I work with are intentionality, timing, location, contract, structure, control, outcomes, and content.
Let me start by distinguishing between learning and rehearsal. When working on my masters, we had to come to consensus for a definition of learning in one of my courses. The best we could come up with is that learning is anything that causes a change in the neurological structure of your brain. This is different from rehearsal. Learning occurs when the changes are happening, rehearsal comes on the second exposure when you reinforce the new structure. Both can occur simultaneously. As you reinforce existing structures, you are also expanding/pruning them as appropriate to the situation. At this level, there is not difference in formal, informal, or any other kind of learning, which is, perhaps, why the relationship between informal/formal and other types of learning may be difficult to establish--inside they are the same.
This brings up the question of context. Here is where formal and informal learning differ. As I now understand it (and please point me in the right direction if I've drifted), key differences between the two are intent and expectations. In formal learning, someone may approach the learning context with the intent of learning something particular--with a particular goal established, often by an external source. Usually there is also a defined or expected process attached. In informal learning, the expectation of a defined final outcome is missing as well as the process for achieving the outcome.
This is why many different types of learning can occur simultaneously.
I seem to recall someone asking a question that went something like whether a course on informal learning might be blurring the boundaries. Perhaps by starting to set boundaries we change the expections and begin to drift? However the expectation of a predetermined outcome keeps the learning informal.
Is it possible to have a formalized process (inquiry to lecture to elearning) and remain informal? What about when I consciously sit down to systematically learn a goal? Is it possible, then, to have a clear personal goal and personal process (like wading through a tough book to learn something) and remain informal? Where do emotions fit in, here? If it is a passion anyway (such as the tough book) is that still formal or informal?
Happy weekend everyone!
What do we know about how people learn? Very little. Even what we've learned about how neurons interact appears to be incorrect. There is a large opportunity to "unlearn" what we "know" about learning. It's very similar to how every "knows" that plants grow towards the sun. Actually, plants do NOT grow towards the sun, they grow away from the dark. Dark causes certain cells on the darkest side to expand which pushes the plant towards the sun. It looks the same as growing towards the sun but the motivational direction is totally different than what we think we "know".
There are lots and gobs of studies on how to teach, most of which appear to be based on small samples of college students still embedded in the command/control educational system, but little on learning.
There are many learning theories and the theory that is the closest match to my experiences is Constructionist. I was especially intrigued when I aligned this set of learning theories to Maslow's hierarchy of motivation. People can be motivated to learn but they cannot be taught.
I haven't entirely unmuddled what is a learning style vs a learning theory because both approaches to understanding learners have some validity to me. As far as learning styles, I've found this matrix the most useful - active/reflective, sensing/intuitive, visual/verbal, and sequential/global. Yes, I've even found personality styles like DiSC to be useful - task/social, detail/decisive.
From what you have said Christie and from what Chris just talked about regarding poverty I think I could probably use some help.
Are we talking about informal learning as a process, and event, a structure/medium/tool, or a context?
For example, Christie, you mentioned motivation in learning which is internal and then went on to talk about teaching and training to mention that 'There's a lot of teaching/training that occurs w/o learning and a lot of learning that occurs w/o teaching/training.' I agree. You couldn't be more right.
But couldn't that be in any environment/context? For example, in a formal classroom setting I could 'tune out or tune in' resulting in learning or not. The same could be in a conversation in the hallway or around a (virtual) fire. In the former I may put in the time, then leave. In the latter I may just leave. The motivation is internal, but context such as teaching method is external.
On another note, when you talk about constructivism are you talking social constructivism (communal focus), personal constructivism (individual focus), a mental models approach, or yet another constructivist-related approach such as enactivism or embodied learning?
From what I understand you are saying, I hear that in a particularly personal sense, all learning is self-structured, internal, self-directed, and individual. But what about in the communal sense or in the process itself--the kind that Chris is talking about? For example, Chris, you talked about such things as Montessori and setting up practical learning contexts with informal, practical curricula. Is informal learning method being equated with a less structured learning method? Does less structure necessarily translate into more informality and vice versa?
Do you see my confusion? There truly does appear to be three 'players' in the informal learning environment: the individual, the context/environment/curriculum, and the relationships between them. When we talk about informal learning, which are we talking about? In informal learning how do the interrelationships change?
It would help me a lot if you could distinguish between them. I think I might understand better. I think it will also help me as I follow the discussions about using technology for learning, too (which is really a contextual tool, right?)
To summarize, teaching is external. Learning is personal, but it can also be communal, hence my proposal of social informal learning. I've heard Christie talk about the personal dimension of learning and Chris talk about the communal dimension of learning and taking advantage of relevant learning opportunities. Both of you (and many of us others) have talked about the context (Montessori, constructivist, technology, group) for learning, but in this whole process we are all interrelating.
What combination of individual, context, and relationship distinguishes what we are doing (informal learning) from formal learning? What drives it all?
Once you help me get a handle on that question, it would help me distinguish between elements of the many other conversations going on. It might also help those of us like Chris and me who are looking for possible solutions to the points he raises. (Not that I'm speaking for you Chris...I'm just assuming. Sorry if I made an incorrect assumption there.) Thanks
PS Chris...Couldn't agree with you more about adolescent groupings. In my K-9 school (and any other school I've been at) the group thing really starts at about 11-13 years with the onset of puberty. Unfortunately, I've observed, the internal conflict of desire for self/solitude at the same time can also create personal and group challenges for them. Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14 is a summary of ideas on this if you don't take the age groups seriously and happening simultaneously. (By Chris Wood, 1997; Northeast Foundation for Children; Greenfield, MA)
..when you mentioned your three players in "informal learning", namely the individual, the context/environment/curriculum, and the relationships between them, I remembered one of my attempts to illustrate the main elements in IL and their relationships. See what you think of it:
Thanks for posting your diagram:
I particularly like the way you show all the relationships happening inside and between the components. I assume this diagram is meant particularly to highlight the learning process, but from a philosophical perspective, might the green cycle arrows also be possible in content and context areas, too?
I assume these green arrows mean the active thinking/reflecting/learning that is going on. But at the change level, the green arrows might also be relevant. I'm thinking that as we learn 'X' we change the content circle and the context circle, which then can affect how others will interact. In other words, like us, the content and context evolve and change. I think adding them to what you have would detract from the diagram and it's purpose but was just pondering.
I also like the way you separated the environment into giver, content, context. I am assuming that the technology filter could be something like a software platform, hardware platform (computer, phone, paper/pencil), or even a communication platform. After all, just the technology of language can make a huge difference in understanding and learning. Am I reading too much into this, or am I off base?
This diagram also reminds me of a curriculum and instruction course I took many years ago when we talked about lesson planning and requiring four considerations in planning: The concepts/skills/principles, teaching strategy (method of delivery), learning activity, and context. Even planning for inquiry/discovery learning had these components. For example, what was the teacher doing while the learners were doing?
Over time, I've heard many different explanations for what counts as content and context. Could you explain those a little more for me, particularly as they compare in informal/formal learning?
good and interesting thinking on your part!
What I initially meant by the inner green arrows was that in a more traditional setting, the givers of learning (eg.teachers) can also benefit from learning from each other and likewise, takers of learning (eg. students) can also benefit a lot from peer-learning...and as a consequence do not have to wait for an outside impulse to create a learning process. I wanted to illustrate that learning happens all around, that roles can shift since at any given moment the student can become a giver of learning as well and that it is determined to a large extent by the (literally) underlying learning context that is home to all the circles and much more that I would ultimately call learning culture. Technolgy surrounds the circles as a filter because it is usually an enabler (or an impediment for some) and usually doesn't have a life of its own (no inner arrows)...this may change with stronger push technology (eportfolios, intelligent competency development systems) but was not really an issue a while ago. Likewise learning content is any range of rather static resources that don't interact with one another..a book doesn't take action to join forces with another book (maybe Amazon is about to change that?) but I really wouldn't be surprised to learn that our Knowledge Management colleagues have something in the making ...
In essence and for the sake of my illustrating what's going on in any given learning culture, the complexity is illustrated by the arrows linking the three circles (what you call interaction) so that I would hesitate add more complexity to the chart at this point. But feel free to create new meaning, take a stab at it...chances are I can easily buy into what you will come up with.
Ciao...Gunnar (sorry if the above is a bit complicated but I guess my thinking is unfortunately far from being clearly structured)
Making more meaning from diagrams such as yours, I think is one of those never ending journeys of the type that I am plodding through. Right now, I'm at the stage of looking at motivating reasons for actions as they link to basic needs and feed into developing key learning concepts/procedures/skills that we create (academic, individual, social, ethical, etc.)--I'm thinking big (Grin...Humorous Grimace). The Circle of Courage, Learned Helplessness, Neuropsychology, the cognitive sciences, spirituality, philosophy, theory of knowledge, novice/expert, anthropology, and instructional design all seem to be jostling for space.
Although I doubt I'll ever become an expert in any of these areas, I'm dreaming that one day people will have given me enough information in places such as this that all I'll have to do is put the pieces together over the next 15 or 20 years. (Any takers? Another big grin!) I'll be happy to try to keep you posted as I gain insights. As my advisor keeps telling me, though,..."Greg, you just need to focus. Keep it small to start!"
Just a comment about content and booksfor consideration. You said that "a book doesn't take action to join forces with another book". If we consider personal knowledge construction, doesn't the information from one book that you've read often connect with other information you have read, even if it is in your head? And doesn't that help you come up with new ideas that get spread through mentoring, consulting, writing other books, etc? Maybe static books are more alive than we think...
That reaction was incomplete and inaccurate. Every time I learn, I'm surrounded by a community. Different communities at different times. It's the community that creates the resources that I use to expand my learning. That community may publish a magazine, or create web pages, or participate in a dicussion forum, or create other resources. At every stage of my learning I'm dependant on the knowledge of others to increase my own levels of learning and application.
I may flit like a butterfly from different communities and rearrange what I take into thoughts that bear little resemblance from the original sources, but if those communities didn't exist to create those resources, I would starve and be unable to evolve and transform.
It's exemplified well in your recent Amazon posting, too, under the 'Re: Tapping Informal Learning: Practical Ideas' thread-May 22.
It leads very well into what Nancy said, too, "It jives with what you said earlier about learning not being a thing, but a way of being." (Re: Overview of first round, with suggested discussion topics)
Interaction is critical to any learning environment whether it is inside our own heads or between cultures and subcultural environments. It reinforces that the nature of the interactions is what really distinguishes between the formal and informal culture/network/continuum. Out of that, comes personal and collective knowledge, which raises another question... (Gee! As always, the more we discover the more questions there are--big grin!)
What is the nature of and relationship between informal and formal knowledge?
Greg Wrote: "Interaction is critical to any learning environment...Out of that, comes personal and collective knowledge, which raises another question..."
Your perspective on Interactions is a key issue in learning. There's a need for a comprehensive theory which would account for the complexity we're dealing with. Although, there are several theories which come to mind [see David's great summary] So far, there is not one accepted theory - A single theory to build on . Therefore, we can keep searching !-)
The notion of IRN suggests the following:
1. The human mind and the human environment are only relatively independent of each other.
2. Humans have an innate capability for representation that comes in two forms: external and internal.
3. The boundaries of their cognitive system extend beyond the brain/skull and includes, first, the body and second, stand-alone artifacts in the environment.
4. The cognitive system is composed of internal representations in the mind/brain as well as of biological, and artificial, external representations in the environment.
5. The dynamics of the system involves an on-going interaction between internal and external representations.
6. External representations provide the link between individual and collective (cultural and social) cognition.
7. The cognitive system in general, and the one associated with cognitive mapping, is a self-organizing system, the dynamics of which is described by Haken's theory of synergetics.
One of the major implications of IRN is that artifacts such as tools, buildings, cities, maps, computerized information nets and the like, are external representations and as such integral components of the cognitive system. That is to say, not only that the ability to manipulate... information . is a critical skill and so on, but that many information systems, GIS included, are externally represented artifacts that often function as integral component in the cognitive systems of individuals and collectivities.
Portugali's SIRN Theory is a powerful theoretical tool for analyzing learning interactions [formal/ informal] and has practical implications as well.
http://www.cs.ucl.ac.uk/staff/t.quick/autopoiesis.html gives a very quick summary.
This theory attempts to provide a neurological explanation to living systems as they interact in an environment and build up into social organizations interacting with their environment. It is non-cartesian, fractally based where the systems increase in complexity according to their possibilities which are mutually influenced by the environment in relationship to others.
At a first glance, the two seem to have many similarities. I will have to sit down and do a comparison sometime in the next while. Maybe that single theory will begin to arise somewhere out of a blending of some form.
Whitaker has a link that he has tried to give information about this more.
http://www.enolagaia.com/MV1980Index.html, but if you really want to understand it, consider the books I mentioned earlier. They seem to be the foundational ones to start:
Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Dordrecth, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company
Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots
of Human Understanding. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambala Publications, Inc
Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.
Thank you for putting me on to this, Elhanan. It is much appreciated!
I want to pick up on a distinction I'm sensing. I'll use the distance learning category as an example.
There can be formal and informal distance learning.
Likewise, informal learning happens all the time in formal learning situations. Formal learning can trigger informal learning and vica versa.
So I'm sensing the idea of a continuum from formal to informal is inadequate to express the true value of informal learning. It is sort of like the air we breath.
Does that make any sense?
The metaphor that learning is a thing is wrong-headed. (I'm beginning to think of learning as one's relationship with the world.) However, if the informal learning thing can wake up the managers, supervisors, teachers, instructors, and others who bludgeon learners with multiple-choice tests, pre-digested pablum, and memorization over understanding, I'll pick up any weapon at hand to man the barricades.
P.S. It's been a long day. It's histrionics time, not you, Choco.
what I sense is a signal that we have to pay attention to learning in a different way. Paying attention to the informal is clearly part of that. It jives with what you said earlier about learning not being a thing, but a way of being.
It is like my friend who has been studying the effects of culture in online learning. She says she is no longer using the word culture as a noun -- it is a way of being and at any one moment we take a snapshot and call it culture. Or something like that. I know I'm grossly misquoting her. :-)
It might be relevant to our discussions to consider some of these ideas as we discuss informal learning. Basically, to review, each of these people recognizes that there are three components to any system: the individual, the context (environment), and the relationship between them. If we recall that while these dimensions exist outside of our minds, we represent them within our minds.
Applying these ideas to informal learning might help in our discussions. For example, how is informal social learning compared with informal personal learning? Can learning in one area truly be independent of the others? (This is where that chaos factor comes into play don't you think?) Perhaps the outcome of the learning is registered in the changes to the environment/context and individually, while the real learning is in the process/relationships that are occurring and evolving (Darwin's adaptations)?
All of these are interdependent, and here's where language, intention, and expertise play major roles in the relationship development and path. Thanks Alice, Bronwyn, and Marsha for stimulating my thoughts there (and to all you others that have my brain whirling but can't quite remember where the ideas started).
Because of the limitations of language we 'know more than we can tell' (Polanyi), but that's the beauty of it. The limitations allow us to make our own connections and extensions even though sometimes we cannot talk about everything at once or what we are able to say is limited by the words themselves so we end up saying an approximation that requires clarification later.
If I had to choose which of the three--individual, environment/context, or relationship was most fun I would have to say that the environment certainly helps establish the tone (which is great!) and I'm just here by my lonesome, but the real fun and learning is in the many relationships that are happening and evolving. For example, each time I skim what has been said so far this week, I gain new insights based on what had been added since the last time.
FYI: Attached is Bandura's Triadic Model of Reciprocal Determinism from Self Efficacy (1997) that shows what I tried to tell.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: W. H. Freeman and Company.
Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1980). Autopoiesis and Cognition: The Realization of the Living. Dordrecth, Holland: D. Reidel Publishing Company
Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The Tree of Knowledge: The Biological Roots of Human Understanding. Boston, Massachusetts: Shambala Publications, Inc.
Polanyi, M. (1966). The tacit dimension. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (1991). The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press)