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Friday, July 14, 2006

Informal Learning - Let's Get Real

I recently read an article by George Siemens - Changing Models where he points to the changes that necessarily need to happen in our understanding of how to support learning. I think he's right on the money (as usual), but then he points out:
ISD can be very effective for learning that has both a clear end outcome and
process. Often, today's learning has neither. We have a rough end target (solve
this problem, innovate, adapt, etc.)...and we really don't have a clear process
(other than teams, meetings, and emerging collaborative spaces).

Wow, I have a really rough time signing up to be in charge of something that doesn't have a defined end target and no process. In fact, this is the antithesis of what I would suggest is the cornerstone of my professional life (see: ADDIE Not Relevant?). I can understand the desire to allow for end-user contribution and an evolving system, but my software development background gives me great pause.

I've written about exactly this issue several times:
and have read lots about this. I'm becoming convinced that folks in the informal learning realm are quite willing to live with "free range" learning. It's way too touchy-feely and abstract for me. If this stuff is important, then I want to:
  • Know that it will work
  • Know why it works
  • Know that its repeatable

For kicks, go look up the definition of informal learning on Wikipedia. Whoops, there isn't one. Why not? Well I tried to figure out what I'd say and it's hopelessly vague.

Heck, I'm not even all that convinced that we, as learners ourselves, are particularly adept at learning (Do Learning Professionals Make the Worst Learners?). I've been trying to write (Personal Learning for Learning Professionals - Using Web 2.0 Tools to Make Reading & Research More Effective) about some ideas on how we can participate in improving our personal learning skills.

But, are we collectively making progress in this? Where are the resources for learning professionals that help us learn? Where's our great examples of informal learning support? Please don't tell me it's TrDev and ASTD. Is that all we've got?

Let's get real... If supporting informal learning is the wave of the future and a critical capability for learning professionals of tomorrow, we had better come up with something more than "unclear process" and based on a "rough end target."

3 comments:

Guy L. Levert said...

We all know informal learning is not new and that it is a new buzz out there, for what reason,... I am not sure. Aren't we all learning informally most of the time? I think so. Why is it such a buzz? Again, not sure. I guess we'll all have to wait for Jay Cross' book to come out and open our eyes on informal learning - or maybe I should re-read what's on his web site at The Other 80%. Anyways, my take on informal learning is a little blurry but I think there is value in there; not as a way to do things but as a way to gather tons of data (maybe even too much data) and tap on this data to "inter-connect" knowledge chunks, linking these chunks with "formal" learning chunks accessible through search engines, etc... It may sound way too complex, but feasible. Is informal learning linked to performance, should it be... OK, I get it: I have more questions than answers - hence the blurryness of my understanding of that informal learning beast. Lots to find out - but that's good, it's informal! :)

Will Thalheimer said...

I'm in agreement. Too much of the informal-learning bandwagon is hype and mirrors. Let Us keep asking for the evidence.

There are researchers who do work on informal learning. I hope we hear from them--and I hope those of us who write about informal learning do some informal learning ourselves and find out what the researchers have to say.

I'm soon going to be highlighting some of the research that seems relevant to informal learning. I'm no expert on informal learning, but every little bit helps. We have to hear from all perspectives, but we need more than wild hypotheses, unquestioned assumptions, and guru opinions unencumbered by the hard work of evidence-based practices.

www.willatworklearning.com

Rina said...

It is true that informal learning is not only more effective but also stress free. Maybe this is the reason why we learn much more informally. Structured learning does have higher stresslevel. If we can come up with equally stress-free assesment methods for informal learning we are in for a break through. I am so impressed with this blog that I want to share mine and if possible get a feedback on how unconscious sharing can be linked to e-learning. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.

My blog is on Yahoo 360.

http://au.blog.360.yahoo.com/blog-KOxfltcifqizd1Pl300ZHcuBkQ--;_ylt=AknLRXiyLF8bFirrdnoMejnkdeJ3?cq=1