Evaluation Practices for Informal/Self-Paced Adult Learning: April 13-May 1, 2009

Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by William Owen -
Number of replies: 18

Hello All,

Thanks for a stimulating beginning to this forum. I found it exciting to hear new ideas, gather new resources, and listen to the nuances surrounding informal learning. It is also great to meet a new colleagues. Thank you.

I have been struggling with how an institution of higher learning can better recognize and appreciate professional development related to teaching. Most of this opportunities are informal, and even more are being offered on-line. So how do we assist in shifting the institutional culture that understands how to evaluate and appreciate (most) research to now include both formal and informal opportunities related to teaching and learning?

Professional development is acknowledged by institutions of higher education as being fundamental to enhancing teaching in the classroom. Thus, institutions have developed diverse methods of recording and acknowledging participants of professional development events. For example, the Centre for Teaching and Academic Growth (TAG) at the University of British Columbia developed and promoted the use of Passports of Participation. Participants in professional development activities receive a “stamp” signed by the facilitator that they then put in their passport of participation. As such, their passports serve to record the professional development activities that one is involved in. Since UBC introduced the passport of participation idea in 2005, other institutions have adopted or adapted the passports of participation in order to recognize those who engage in events designed to enhance their teaching. Fundamentally, passports of participation serve to encourage continuous professional development related to improving teaching and learning and recognize those who do so.

We are currently involved in a project to see if we can implement this project on a provincial basis. Here are some of the questions we are discussing: which professional development opportunities would qualify for the program? How do we assign ‘values’ to different types of professional development opportunities (e.g., a one hour vs 3 hour session)? How can we build upon other provincial initiatives (e.g., Learn Together Collaboratory web site)? How do we recognize both participants and facilitators? What type of recognition do we wish to offer (e.g., Letter of Participation provided by an institutional representative or a governmental department, display photos on Learn Together, etc.)?

What models do you know of that serve to both evaluate and recognize informal learning?

In reply to William Owen

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Bonnie Johnston -
William,

Could you give further examples of what kinds of learning qualify to get stamped into a participant's passport? I can imagine that participating in a lunchtime workshop on using clickers is probably included, but what about maintaining a professional blog where the blogger is working out thorny profession-related problems?

From your description it also appears that participation is the sole criteria. I personally agree with this. It seems tempting to start down the road of evaluating the quality of the participation (and whatever other artifacts of learning you might get a stamp for), but I think it may backfire because it may become onerous to the evaluators, demotivating to the participants, and chaotic to manage if anything can be included (eg. I read this book and would like you stamp my passport, which is easy if I just have to show evidence that I read it, but what do you do if you have to evaluate the depth/breadth of my understanding?)

Something that concerns me is the underlying assumptions that I wonder about, that goes something like:

formal learning ->contrived
informal learning ->authentic

What I wonder is if we are trying to shove evidence of informal learning into an evaluative paradigm that is acceptable to formal learning.
In reply to Bonnie Johnston

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Christine Horgan -

Hello: Learning is the goal....formal evaluation of informal learning (attending lunch & Learn sessions, for example) could lead to box checking and hoop jumping and gum flagging so a person's presence is noticed. Learning could still take place....but I would personally prefer to be left along to learn whatever it is I feel I need to learn

This is a very interesting topic....I can't say that it's kept me awake at night but a lot of my dog-walking time in the last week has including ruminating on the topic. Thanks,

Chris

In reply to Bonnie Johnston

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Derek Chirnside -
Coming a bit late here. I have not read all the posts, but I will dip in here.

Bonnie said:
Something that concerns me is the underlying assumptions that I wonder about, that goes something like:


formal learning ->contrived
informal learning ->authentic

Some thinking I see in the Informal vs formal taught courses seems to assume this. Informal learning = authentic I do agree with, almost by definition. But it does not necesarily follow that formal learning does not = authentic.
But it usually does.
Nor does it follow that formal learning = contrived.

As to your next sentence:

What I wonder is if we are trying to shove evidence of informal learning into an evaluative paradigm that is acceptable to formal learning.

I resist your term 'shove' here.

I work in an institution that confers degrees and certificates. There is an accreditation process. Compliance, audits.

My question is "How can be allow in our formal taught courses the benefits and strengths of informal education?"

Realising I have not approached the questions of definitions adequately yet, to rephrase: I am trying to find a way to admit evidence from informal learning into formal taught courses.

But:
  1. I have hit the time barrier: it is more costly in terms of staff time - at the moment. I have therefore been looking at tools to help, and to date portfolios hve been a worse cure than the disease.
  2. I have hit the expertise barrier. We tried a model of getting the assistance of several outside exterts, since the co-ordinating teacher did not have all the experience needed.
  3. Learners who are instrumental (ie just tell me what I need to know and give me the test) have not done well.
    Business vs academic environments differ here.
  4. It does take more time. For the learners. (Yes I know this statement needs unpacking)
  5. And Einstein was right:
"Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts." (apparently a sign hanging in Einstein's office at Princeton)

I described our course approach somewhere here in ScOPE a couple of years ago. Start in our secure home base. Make a meandering trip into the wild west. Come back to home base with what you have learned. Fun. But our College was not ready for it.

-Derek
And Bonnie I haven't event touched on your other good question: what do you do if you have to evaluate the depth/breadth of my understanding?


In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Jenni Harding -

Derek and all,

Your barriers to recognition intrigue me Derek, as they have been the subject of much discussion in Australia.  Our Federal and State governments have identified recognition as one of the key strategies to address skills shortages.

Have a look at the RON (RPL Network Online) Wiki - lots of resources, recordings of discussions which address some of the barriers you have hit, and lots more.  It won't solve all your issues! but the network is an invaluable way of learning. there is also a Google discussion group, and online case studies and discussion, live in Adobe Connect.  Details are on the Wiki, and all are welcome to join: http://rplnetworkonline.wikispaces.com

 

In reply to Jenni Harding

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by William Owen -
For myself, the question of a model of recognizing informal learning fits with the the assumptions underlying. Recognition is not the same as evaluation; however, we are often required to equate recognition with evaluation.  From an institutional perspective, informal learning needs to be celebrated. Many institutions that I am familiar with are not doing enough to celebrate informal learning.  As Jenni, noted there are many benefits to individuals, institutions, and society at large in terms of recognizing informal learning.
In reply to William Owen

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Christine Horgan -

Well said, William:

"From an institutional perspective, informal learning needs to be celebrated. Many institutions that I am familiar with are not doing enough to celebrate informal learning. As Jenni, noted there are many benefits to individuals, institutions, and society at large in terms of recognizing informal learning."

What would celebration look like?

Chris 

In reply to Christine Horgan

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by William Owen -

The ultimate celebration of learning would occur when at least one or two people within an institution recognize that they do not have to work so hard to promote the benefits of teaching and learning - there is a cultural shift to embrace creative and effective means of learning as a real value to the institution.

How do we get there? Small steps. A cultural shift in institutional mindsets will not happen in a year or two...a key ingredient is passion. That passion has to be seen at four different levels: micro (working with individuals), meso (working with unit or division leaders/champions), macro (working with the institution) and mega (working beyond the institution) - this framework, micro-mega, was one presented at the Educational Developers Caucus Meeting this past February by Laura Winer from the Teaching and Learning Services Centre at McGill University. It is easier for us to celebrate and recognize informal learning among a self-selected group of informal learners (mirco-level), but to have an impact, I think we need to focus on the other three levels.

The meso-level may have the largest impact for many of us. What would celebration look like there? Letters of recognition that are valued by that unit/division. Providing opportunities for sharing of knowledge/skills/values gained from informal learning to others within the unit/division. Ensuring reward structures are aligned with the cultural ethos that values informal learning.

and then capping it off with a good bottle of wine big grin

What would celebration look like for others?

In reply to William Owen

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Ken Udas -
Very nice. Let’s just say that those one or two people within a particular institution who recognize that they do not have to work so hard to promote the benefits of teaching and learning are the president and provost.

What advice would you give them to move the cultural change agenda forward? Let’s say that this hypothetical is in a 2- or 4-year teaching institution.

-Ken
In reply to Ken Udas

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by William Owen -

Ken I think you are right on with this comment - the president and provost are the keys.

 

How do we begin to change their ways of thinking about professional development?  One strategy is to set them up for success.  One way to do this is to utilize an existing committee (or establish a committee) that reports directly to the Provost or President. The terms of reference should reflect issues that are important to the institution (e.g., Learning Outcomes, Promoting Teaching Excellence).  Successfully delivering on these objectives, and reporting back to the Provost on how they have lead to positive changes.

In reply to Jenni Harding

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Derek Chirnside -
Thanks. We have RPL here as a practice (identical to you: shortage of trained preschol eductaors, lets try RPL)

It is very time consuming. I'll check out the website.

-Derek
In reply to Derek Chirnside

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Bonnie Johnston -
Hi Derek,
I'm very much in agreement with you regarding the importance of the question, "How can be allow in our formal taught courses the benefits and strengths of informal education?" and it's something I ask every day when I sit down at my desk as an instructional developer.

Where I was going with the (admittedly not well thought out) assumptions is much more nicely articulated by Christine Horgan, Paddy Fahrni and now Nick Bowskill over in the other discussion thread, "Should informal learning be evaluated?".

I entered into this discussion with my understanding of informal learning as being an expression of learner agency, and that learners will drive themselves to get what they think they need in whatever settings, formal or informal, if sufficiently motivated. But I got all muddled, and still am, when the discussion turns to credentialling, authenticating, evaluating, etc..

I am very interested in hearing about situations which formalize informal learning, while still maintaining the integrity of learner autonomy (eg. not the carrot-stick of continuing professional credits to maintain a license or professional designation)

- Bonnie
In reply to Bonnie Johnston

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Christie Mason -
Thank you Bonnie for expressing some confusion about the twist in topics towards credentialing. It also confused me.

I have doubts on the value and quality of current models of evaluating formal learning and was a bit distressed to see the attempts to impose those models onto informal learning.

It seems to me that most formal learning models don't allow the learner to evaluate the learning resource, while the usefulness of informal learning resources are constantly evaluated by learners. Learners that don't find an informal resource useful will simply ignore it. That's not an option in formal learning environments.

Perhaps the question should be "How can we apply the methods of evaluating informal learning resources towards improving formal learning models?"


In reply to Bonnie Johnston

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by William Owen -

Hi Bonnie,

We are in the discussion stage right now and we are actually surveying people regarding what would count. We have discussed things like pedagogically-related book circles, "lunch and learn" sessions, to the more formal instructional skills workshops, etc. Our main focus is in celebrating efforts related to enhancing one's teaching.

Personally, I certainly do not hold the assumptions that formal and informal learning are directly tied to contrived vs authentic, respectively. Both of these types of learning can be either primarily depending on the motivations of the individual. Added to this in the formal contexts, the motivations and assumptions of the facilitator(s) for holding the formal learning session.

My thoughts...

In reply to William Owen

Informal Lunch and Learn

by Valerie Taylor -
My personal preference is for "Lunch and Learn" format - as both a learning and sharing opportunity as well as a celebration. These get-togethers are professionally stimulating and a special treat to spend time with others in a collegial setting.

I'm having to retreat somewhat. We started off with Technology Enhanced Instruction which was shelved due to layoffs and retirements. I had the opportunity to restart several years later. I thought we needed an fresh coat of paint. The old title was so "yesterday" so we switched to calling it Technology Supported Learning and offered it as a credit course. And nothing happened. This just didn't get anyone excited.

So back we go - informal learning, Lunch and Learn format, celebrate getting together with professional colleagues and talking about Teaching, Learning and Technology.

..Valerie
In reply to William Owen

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Bonnie Johnston -
thanks William -

Applying Paddy Fahrni's suggested definition of informal learning as learner autonomy to say, lunch and learn sessions, we can say that learners have the choice to attend a session that is being pushed out to them, as it is not a requirement of their profession or employment, but during the session, how much do they control? Do they drive the content of the session?

Sorry to be such a stickler on this, but I'm wondering if we're all talking about different things? Informal learning to me would be the pedagogically-related book circles and a lunch and learn that responded to learner issues a la Open Space Technology . Where I originate from (community based adult education), an organized lunch and learn with pre-deteremined objectives is still a formal educative intervention.

I'm wondering if we're really talking about formalizing efforts at professional development that are not conditional on employment, maintaining a license or a professional designation? I am all for this by the way - love formal lunch-and-learns, want to very much celebrate professionals who want to grow and develop, especially in the post-secondary environment and getting subject specialists to think of themselves as teachers as well. Is that what we're talking about?

- Bonnie
In reply to William Owen

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Julia Hengstler -
Where does this place self-direct informal learning? Is there a process for specified faculty/facilitators to review/interview candidates to "sign-off" on what they know?
In reply to William Owen

Re: Models of Recognizing Informal Learning

by Don McIntosh -
I am a lurker in this forum.

I think it is useful to see what is happening in the corporate world. Many companies have long recognized the value of informal learning and have adopted Web 2.0 technologies enthusiastically to give it some structure and to capture some of it.

You may be interested in this upcoming webinar offered by Josh Bersin, one of the leading thinkers and researchers in the corporate training world.

The Enterprise Learning Framework - Formalizing Informal Learning

Thursday, May 21, 2009 1:00 p.m. ET
Josh Bersin, President

Today’s learning organizations need to build training solutions that are cost efficient and leverage the potential value of social networking and collaborative learning. New applications and new business challenges require a re-evaluation of virtually all learning approaches. Attend this webinar and you’ll find out answers to questions like these: How do you formalize informal learning in today's business environment? What are the new models for blended learning? How can you leverage your LMS and new learning technologies to build high-impact, low-cost modern learning programs?

Join Bersin for this interactive discussion of the latest industry research and the soon-to-be-published Enterprise Learning Framework. Click here to register today.