We were asked at the nesta futurelab seminar I mention below to think through a few questions. Here are my random ravings in response:
What is informal learning and how does it differ from formal learning?
Informal learning will be characterized by intrinsic motivation, a lack of pre-defined syllabus or curriculum, a wider range of sources and styles of content, perhaps more authentic contexts, and a greater sense of fun.
Why is it important and what can we learn from it/build upon it?
Personalization – I’d see informal learning as that which the learner undertakes because they want to, and so it automatically tailors itself to their enthusisasm, abilities etc. Again, the intrinsic motivation is important, and is something which it would be nice to carry over into the more formal curriculum.
What alternative approaches are there toward linking home-school and enhancing informal learning?
VLE functionality, if done right, makes it possible to extend the best aspects of the classroom into the home environment, allowing collaborative, social learning to carry on at home. The VLE also allows an opportunity to share interactive activities further afield than the classroom – this tends to be the biggest use of our system during school holidays. Where a VLE also serves as a parent portal, there would be interesting opportunities as using it as a tool for building up the extended school community. Must explore this!
In early primary education, the ‘show and tell’ approach validates home learning and allows others to learn from the out of school experience of others – our blogging work has provided a technological mechanism for facilitating this.
What are the education theories/philosophical principles behind them?
Others would be better qualified than I here, but I have in mind such ideas as rational autonomy as an educational aim, social constructivism, Vygotsky’s zone of proxymal development, and personalization. I can probably unpack some of this if you’d like.
What are the best examples of informal learning?
The game stuff is important here – especially the rich, complex gaming that we see now. Worth exploring fan-fiction too, as well as the learning that accompanies a whole range of hobbies when explored for their own sake – my wife’s interest in geneology is a not uncommon example.
What policy and practice should policy change?
I’d like to see more opportunity for project based learning, either individually or in groups – much of the curriculum could be delivered this way, and I continue to be amazed by some of the work my pupils (and their parents…) produce in response to tasks like this – we’re seeing a number of them now ‘doing a project’ over the holdiays just for the fun of it. Exam and inspection demands are the big constraints.
How might new technologies best be mobilised to tap into existing knowledge and skills within the wider community?
The tension here is between extending the school community and child protection – I’d love to make our VLE and Blog systems open to a wider group, but know that others would have huge issues with the potential abuse of the system – anonymity for pupils is one way round this, but this could contradict my desire to give them a sense of ownership of and responsibility for what they write.
What are the best examples of the use of new technologies for informal learning goals/purposes?
Blogs (we use elgg)
Wiki, especially wikipedia
Lots of the other web 2.0 stuff, like flickr, 43things, del.icio.us, and podcasting is really important here
Collaborative online gaming
Communication technology like e-mail, voip and instant messaging can help facilitate informal learning, but isn’t enough in itself for this.
How might we better utilise new technologies for learning outside the school?
I’d like to see a blurring of the edges here, and find ways of making the various technologies available in either context, thus an opening up of school networks to allow access to the resources used at home (even MSN messenger and online games, I suppose!), and also VPN access to school networks from home, VLEs, school based blogs etc provided by the school for use both in school and at home.