Based on decades of experiences, it appears to me that every time an effective informal process becomes formalized and evaluated, it then becomes restricted, loses power and loses effectiveness.
I think it w/b useful for educators and trainers to define what informal learning processes are used, and why they're used/preferred, only if the intent of the evaluation is to improve formal learning processes.
As soon as you formalize the evaluation of informal learning, it's no longer informal.
How about credentialing? If we believe that substantive learning can take place outside of "formal" schooling experiences--that it is valid--then individuals should be able to use it toward some type of credentialing process should they so wish. For example, say I have a persistent personal interest in relational trust--I read widely, I publish, I run some projects etc.--but I don't take a formal course. Now, one day I decide that I would like to take some degree that has as a component--in whole or in part--relational trust. I should be able to have my knowledge/skills/experience in this area evaluated to determine if I have met the requirements for credentialing in this area without attending additional formal training--or to target the extent of additional training needed. This is what we do whenever we allow students to challenge a course--and receive credit for it. I think as "formal" institutions continue to evolve, we will see more emphasis on them as "credentialing" bodies that can provide entire courses of study or tailor materials to individuals' gaps. Kind of reminds me of guilds in the Middle Ages.
The earliest guilds were formed as confraternities of workers. They were organized in a manner something between a trade union, a cartel and a secret society. They often depended on grants of letters patent by an authority or monarch to enforce the flow of trade to their self-employed members, and to retain ownership of tools and the supply of materials.
These guilds (formal education confraternities) have been demolished in most countries with the enthousiastic help of their members, who are on the frontline in the combat against the accumulation of knowledge for its own sake. That substative learning can take place outside the formal system has always been the case. As someone has mentioned elsewhere, no one thought of asking for creditation for the extra books they read. But could I ask you what did you mean by your reference to guilds ?
The formalization & rigidity of the process -is perhaps at issue--and I hadn't thought it through quite as thoroughly as I would have hoped at this point. My history is a bit rusty--but didn't the formalism & rigidity increase as a method of increasing control & establishing/consolidating power?
In the educational world those symbolic representations are credentials, certificates, degrees. What is the value of being awarded those symbolic representations to an individual, a commerce entity, society? Does the value exceed the cost of obtaining that symbol of achievement?
I doubt that it would be in any educational entity's self interest to symbolically value informal learning because it calls into question the cost of the formal processes and the value offered by completing that process.
For many years I've wondered why many of the areas that require the most credentials and degrees are some of the lowest paying, with M.B.A.s appearing to be a glaring exception to that theory. I suspect M.B.A.s are an exception because it's not valued for evidence of superior knowledge about business (evidenced by the recent meltdown in M.B.A. lead financial institutions), it's closer to belonging to a guild.
I like this thought Julia - perhaps the ONLY way to evaluate informal learning - the prior learning assessment portfolio.
It could be organized specifically for the outcomes and the activities done to achieve those outcomes. I suppose there is an element of trust here. I have confidence that a 'professional' person would give an honest description of the learning they did towards an outcome - I'm less certain about some of our postsecondary students willingness or ability to assess themselves honestly.
I suppose PLA requires a certain level of development - though I guess it could be a mix of items, some of which may have been evaluated by someone else.
But thanks for the approach - this may help me in the future - expand the mind a bit!
PLAR (prior learning and recognition) is, I think, ready to move beyond its current boundaries to process course grades from courses posted in the transfer guide. It is certainly an interesting option. Something else to think about when I'm walking the dog.
Another might be declaration of informal learning in one's annual performance review document. It would be a way of recording the learning but without any evaluation. This could, of course, be followed up with a conversation with one's immediate supervisor. This approach would depend a lot of the nature of performance reviews at a given institution.
Thank you, Chris
I should have caught and edited my own work before the half hour was up....I'll take another brief run at explaining myself about PLAR.
I said: "PLAR (prior learning and recognition) is, I think, ready to move beyond its current boundaries to process course grades from courses posted in the transfer guide. It is certainly an interesting option. Something else to think about when I'm walking the dog."
PLAR (which at my institution is Prior Learning, Assessment, and Recognition) appers--to me--to be somewhat stuck within the boundaries of (a) process course grades from courses posted in the transfer guide and (b)assessing, on a one-by-one basis, courses not in the guide. I know that PLAR is moving in the direction of portfolio assessment--long overdue from my viewpoint. If portfolio review and assessment (unfortunately, there's that evaluation piece) becomes acceptable, it opens up an avenue for recognition of informal learning.
I hope my colleague, Amanda Roberts, joins our conversation because she works in our PLAR area and she may have some interesting comments and thoughts to share.
Hi Kim: Nope, you're ont being silly....good points.
WYour comments--and some of the posts over the last few days-- make me wonder if we need a common definition(s) of what informal learning looks like.
I have the sense that within this SCoPE seminar group there may be three or four different views of what informal learning is, and I have the sense that our answers, responses, and questions are being influenced by the blinkers (blinders) we are each wearing.
For me (and this may be overly simplistic), there appear to be two or three different types of informal learning:
The first is personal. E.g., I wanted to learn how to use Facebook ,and so I crashed around for several days and taught myself what I needed to know. That's informal learning....I did it purely to meet my own needs and satisfy my curiosity. It has no connection to my paid work.
The first type is also professional. I consider these SCoPE sessions informal learning--it's just that the learning is directly related to my job. I can't measure the learning, and I certainly don't want to evaluate it, but I do keep a record of the sessions I've attended in my performance review document.
The second type might be in-house professional development: lunch-and-learn sessions, faculty development sessions, guest speakers. Directly related to work. In my department, most of us record these sessions in our PPRs but there are no deliverables and there's no evaluation.
The third type might be the learning that goes out in around around formal learning in a credit course. After the prof has put away his/her notes ...the learners hit the coffee shop and debrief the lecture. There's peer tutoring....there's an exchange of ideas....there's clarification and confirmation that what one learner heard/understood is the prof's message. This learning shows up in the learner's course work but it's almost impossible to show where the line between formal and informal learning occurs.
I can see my dog walking activities are going to be intellectually busy over the next few days.
Thanks, Everyone....this is a really intersting topic.
RE - the definition of informal learning. I'm just writing a little blurb and share this info on earlier definitions - may or may not be useful here:
"I began being interested in adult learning groups and informal learning at the turn of the century. In 1998, the National Research Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) released the first Canadian survey of informal learning practice, and NALL director D.W. Livingstone provided a working definition of informal learning as follows:
Informal learning is any activity involving the pursuit of understanding, knowledge or skill which occurs outside the curricula of institutions providing educational programs, courses or workshops. Informal learning may occur in any context outside institutional curricula. It is distinguished from everyday perceptions and general socialization by peoples' own conscious identification of the activity as significant learning. The basic terms of informal learning (objectives, content, means and processes of acquisition, duration, evaluation of outcomes, applications) are determined by the individuals and groups who choose to engage in it, without the presence of an institutionally-authorized instructor. (Livingstone, 1998)
Others also define informal learning in contrast to formal learning. Informal learning takes place not in "school-like settings" but in “daily life and work”(Russell & Ginsburg, 1999). Sawchuk (2003) contrasts it to formal learning that is state-operated and credentialized: “Informal learning does not centre around a structured classroom or credentials. It is composed of self-directed or collectively directed learning projects.” (p.638). So informal learning is largely defined by what it is not – not in a classroom, not through institutionalized curricula, not with institutionally-authorized instructors, not structured, and not credentialized. The contrast to formal learning is an important starting point of definition, but the more important defining element of informal learning is learner autonomy: the terms of learning being determined "by the individuals and groups who choose to engage in it"(Livingstone, 1998); and its composition as "self-directed or collectively directed learning projects.”(Sawchuk, 2002)."
These are earlier definitions and I think that by now it's less useful to separate formal and informal learning - (just as we no longer divide classroom learning and online learning). However, I would still suggest that a main element of informal learning is learner autonomy. If this is so, then what does the learner say constitutes evaluation?
PS-No dogs to walk for me - just two cats who won't...
If I spend a lifetime engaged in something that interests me I'm bound to learn a lot about it... if I seek to enter professional or academic ranks within that same field then it's reasonable to ask me to demonstrate what I've learned.
The same applies if I wish to become a student in formal education settings - there ought to be effective mechanisms that establish that first step of all good teaching - determine the level of prior learning.
What's the point of going through early undergraduate offerings if my informally acquired knowledge and ability surpasses what these students are asked to learn?
What I'm envisioning is that a course of study has specific outcomes clearly defined and advertised by an institution. An individual seeking a credential approaches an institution for a gap analysis--what am I already able to demonstrate a proficiency in with regard to the outcomes (maybe reading journals, blogs, workproducts etc. as evidence), which need additional work and which do I need to learn from the ground up. It's then up to the individual to design a learning path--eg. self-directed study, mentorship, course A at institution X but course b at institution y--under the guidance of (or with the help of) an academic mentor from the credentialing institution.
Probably a bit Utopian?
Your point about the course of study having specific outcomes clearly defined and advertised by an institution is important. I was envisioning that would lead to credential - just a bigger scope for the course of study. And even harder to implement.
And yes, more than a little Utopian, I think. But we can make it so...
I can see drivers for both approaches. The course requirement might be to establish a common language around similar concepts--one of the things Christensen refers to in Disrupting Class. Can you effectively exempt courses in a cohort model? Some students might have more knowledge and experience--but the profession or department needs to associate a specific language set on it.
Exemption would work well where terminology in a field is well defined--or common language is not an issue. However, most institutions have a vested financial interest in requiring courses.
2. The Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology implemented a process of reviewing informal learning (PLAR) as credits for their certificate programs several years ago. It meant submitting a portfolio of your work, sometimes writing an exam in areas that required exams for licensing and having a supervisor sign off on your level of expertise. It was very expensive but saved older workers going back to school.
The thrust of the conversation appears to centre upon the aim of 'capturing' ' assessing' ' credentialing' etc. It all seems hostile to informality.
Then I thought about evaluation by who? And according to who's criteria might my informal projects and conversations be evaluated? Who's agenda is being addressed etc.
Then I thought about the social context that seems to be missed in the conversation so far. Most of my informal learning involves others as facilitators or participants. Shouldn't evaluation reflect that social dimension much more?
Then I thought about the social-cultural aspect. Here we all are informally gathered together from at least different points of the western world but even within this we have huge diversity. Evaluation may be a critical approach to work and experience that may suit some more than others. Being 'critical' is an alien concept to many in the East and West.
So my current summary is that this is a big issue. And perhaps I should stop there.
Have a good weekend wherever you are.
University of Glasgow