Thursday, March 31, 2011

Stimulating self-directed learning

We had quite some confusion this week going on about the concept of 'networked learning' during an interesting day with learning professionals. For some this is really about networking online through social media and learning a lot by connecting with other professionals online. For others this is about face-to-face networks focussing on learning together from practice, like a community of practice. I guess it doesn't matter as long as you are clear what you are refering to. Be clear about the definition you use. A definition I liked a lot was: 'discussing difficulties with others, mostly during lunch'. You can simply imagine how this person has the brightest insights by lunching with a group of (self-chosen) colleagues :). Here's a graph with some dimensions of learning networks. If you talk about a closed, face-to-face, problem-solving network you talk about a different animal than when you talk about a fluid twitter community around a certain hashtag. Which is OK, as long as you don't talk about best practices and set fixed steps to nurture these networks. In that case it is good to be more specific. Some people clearly felt that learning networks should be organic and self-organised. I disagree because I think you can do quite a lot to support and grow healthy learning networks. I like to quote Barab: "you can not design communities of practice, but you can design for communities of practice".

Informal and formal learning was also part of the confusing language and I got to realize this is not a helpful language after all. Formal learning gets labelled as 'directive', informal learning makes people think they can't do anything to stimulate it. Though I also say I focus on 'informal learning' I will try to use a clearer language in the future. Learning is not informal or informal, activities can be more or less formal (and I'm sure people using the term want to express that). An example: my personal question is currently how I could learn handy things for my Mac computer. I could learn this through a classroom course, I could learn this by asking questions on Forum on online communities. I could also learn this by going to colleagues who have a mac and are willing to share. The learning is roughly the same process, the activities are participate in differ.

What can be more or less formalized and structured is the organisation of learning activities. On the one hand, a self-structured process whereby nothing is organised. On the other hand a well prepared and structured curriculum. Both have advantages, in a self-structured process the person is fully in control and takes ownership of his/her learning process. In a curriculum people have thought deeply about the field and what should be part of the content. Often trainings are put forward in a caricature whereby the participants only receive information. In reality many trainings also try to link to the questions and experiences of the participants. In between is the interesting area where learning professionals can be creative to stimulate participant-led learning. You can nurture learning communities. Stimulate professionals to blog. Add a coach to a workteam. You can connect people through twitter hashtags. Those are organised activities that try to combine the best of both worlds.

By the way I just found an article about 'emergent learning' and'prescriptive learning'. Might be better terms than formal and informal learning? What do you think?

For people interested in the presentation I can include my prezi. Though the text is Dutch, it is pretty visual too.


Paulo Moekotte said...

Dear Joitske,

Consider using the outcomes of a insightful report on 'formal' and 'informal' learning in constructing this new language you seek.
The report adresses the traditional dichotomy between the two and draws a simular conclusion as you have done: it's a matter of 'more or less' instead of 'either ... or'. This gradual distinction between 'more or less formal' is concieved as 'attributes and aspects of formality and informality in learning'. See the entire LSRC report INFORMALITY AND FORMALITY IN LEARNING

Joitske said...

Hi Paulo, thanks for this report, I'm definitely going to read it. After I wrote this post, I discovered more people are thinking in this direction. It strikes me now that often when we say learning we mean 'teaching activity' or 'intervention'. We may have to improve our language..

Paulo Moekotte said...

It sometimes strikes me that we seem to make the same 'mistake' when we forget to distinctively focus on the instructional design (being more task-oriented) and the interaction design (being more non task-oriented i.e. social-pscychological oriented). Hence Kirschner, Kreijns and others have introduced the concept of 'sociability' as an element or property of the educational design (aka 'social affordances'), especially when it comes to CSCL.
It seems (or at least I think) we somehow automatically interpret the non-task oriented context as being informal, leaving effective interaction of learners to chance.