Minh's example of the edge of a forest as an example of the Edge of Chaos struck home. The transitional margin between 2 existing systems is the area of optimum opportunity for new growth. Within the context of this discussion, it is the area of opportunity for learning moments, not teachable moments. It is the edge between controlled, traditional training and the perceived chaos of the web.
Is eLearning the "structure" to support informal learning? It depends on how you define eLearning. eLearning is NOT putting PPT on the web and it is NOT synchronous web conferences that poorly replicate a constricted classroom event.
4 years ago I created a page called "What is eLearning?" . I was frustrated then, and still, about how eLearning had been used to replicate formal, controlled, ineffective, traditional training/teaching processes instead of expanding, extending, enhancing and evolving web supported processes that are already widely used to support informal learning.
My 3 best reference sites for what eLearning could be are Google.com (non-linear search), Amazon.com (faceted classification and collaborative knowledge sharing) and Dell.com (build to order learning components). There is a structure and control underlying each site's functions and display but each site does not enforce a linear navigation of its content.
Contrast the structure of those sites to what passes for what trainers use to create eLearning. Learning/Learner management systems that restrict access by static organizational hierarchies, content authoring programs that are usually nothing more than PPT to static HTML convertors or PPT to Flash (the garlic of the Web) convertors.
It's been my general experience that IT "gets" how to capitalize on the opportunities of the web at the edge between control and chaos - trainers don't. Both tend to have a control orientation so this has always confused me. My current theory is that it may be that IT has learned to think in terms of controlling the interaction of intangible "services" while trainers still think in terms of controlling tangible, paper based presentations.
Control (which I would pair with emergence as a sort of occilating cycle)
Edges - which is where my experience has taught me all the interesting stuff is. The learning edge.
As I sat and reflected on your message, Christie, I began to wonder how we reframe control from "determining outcomes" to "finding the conditions to keep us on our learning edge."
I think it is part of human nature to want to feel some control. So why not channel it more productively?? Am I a dreamer?
Control is an intangible perception and the oddest thing of all is that the more you appear to give up control, the more control you have.
I came to that odd realization through decades of experiences and through fractals. Fractals are patterns that are replicated to/from infinitely small and infinitely large that create images that appear nothing like the underlying pattern at different viewing points and from different angles (for a fun exploration try Aros Fractals). The pattern of interconnectedness of neurons is the same as organization/individual relationships, which are the same as the web.
To me that pattern is also the same as the spirals of connections and content that people create during their individual learning processes. Attempting to impose a hierarhical command/control process upon dynamic learning connections as never made sense to me. (See my poor graphical attempt to present this by clicking on the questions marks at the top of this page)
One person can control the underlying pattern but one person cannot control how and when a different person will perceive the replications of that pattern. Each person's perception of that image is correct, but each perception will differ because there are infinite viewing points.
Another related concept from fractals is that random events create order. That means that most people's perception of chaos is incorrect. What they are misunderstanding is the underlying pattern. (Google for Sierpinski triangle or try this link).
That probably got a little "out there" but these concepts have provided me with a practical touch point in many different environments.
This in a thing I subscribe to called Technology and Learning - this month's issue. (my bold italics)
Product Guide: Remote Control
From real-time assessment to keeping students on task, classroom management software can help educators retain control of the learning environment.
Is control desirable? Planning is. Design is.
I find the orange stuff up there just plain scary - familiar - but disturbing.
What we learn in school
In formal learning situations (school, training) we learn that we are not in charge of our own learning. External control replaces a child's natural desire to learn. We carry this school learning into our adult lives and most structured learning situations. Put someone in an ordinary training situation and they often tune out or get hostile.
But much informal learning continues in adulthood. Allen Tough (1971) at the Ontario Institute found that in his sample of 66 adults, each typically had 8 projects for learning that they spent 81-104 hours on in a 6 month period. So it is not that adults stop learning or stop wanting to learn. I think a formal learning situation triggers old expectations that they are not in charge of their learning. I found that when we tried to have staff members direct their own staff development (through learning contracts) many had no idea how to make choices.
Brockett and Heimstra, also at the Ontario Institute, make a distinction between self-directed learning (facilitated by an educator) and learner self-direction in which the learner takes responsibility for the learning. What would need to happen for learner self-direction to become the norm in schools and businesses?
John Seely Brown has been in favor of promoting the edge for learning and for business. He and John Hagel named their most recent book The Only Sustainable Edge, and both of them are well aware of the many layers of meaning edge implies. It's where things intersect. It's where rotation is the fastest. It's, well, edgy. New stuff is created on the edge, often from bumping into other edges, and then migrates to the center.
- Is choice the/a key element here?
- If we have edges and thus boundaries, there is difference between the two areas. But another way of looking at this difference might be the perspective of "new opportunities for connection/creation" .. maybe this has something to do with edges/boundary areas being rich learning sites.
In practice, what would this look like. Do we enable boundaries that confine or ones that invite us to cross?
Well maybe if we think about dangerous boundaries - a cliff edge, the edge of a footpath/pavement on a busy road, the top of the stairs. I think the common characteristics here are abruptness, clear distinction, high contrast. For the young the old & the novice such transtions present danger.
As a novice abseiller I have to learn how to engage with that dangerous boundary - the cliff edge. Someone has to show me how. I've faced this several times as I only get to abseil once or twice a decade so I remain the eternal novice. What kind of learning is this at the top of the cliff? My life depends on it or feels like it does. But I have chosen this engagement & am highly receptive.
Formal or informal? Neither? Both? Is the dichotomy useful?
Comments, ideas, challenges welcomed :)
How do we use this edge productively in informal learning?