Not a new phenomena, as we can all infer informal learning (IL) is going on all the time. Formal learning in our setting, has a well defined programme and tools of assessment to measure if ’ learning’ has taken place. There are lots of articles on this concept and any entry can’t go without mentioning the informal learning guru Jay Cross (who widely lectures the benefits in the work place whose tones are shed in the educational setting http://learningtechnologiesconference.wordpress.com/2007/02/22/jay-cross-video-on-informal-learning/
So, it appears this concept is more at the forefront now that we are all scurrying to see what on earth our learners are up to in this age of emergent technologies. It does make you wonder who is in the driving seat! (technology! did you say). Now, are we just interested because informal learning is taking place using e-tools? If we are, we need to be, what can we learn and what do we need to be aware of. Users of these technologies are getting younger and younger and we need to be switched on (which is my way of saying aware of the trends, this does not mean we always need to follow, but our duty is to analyse and evaluate). These emergent technologies used in informal learning settings do instigate a need to look into this deeper and the ripples that they make.
Going back to the concept of informal learning , now this is nothing new here, even without these technologies learners would collaborate informally using other methods. It does come down to a matter of choice for the learner (learner styles) in how they go about studying ‘informally’ – in that sense the learner makes inferred choices as to how they go about doing these activities and thus is in charge of their own learning (PLE (personal learning environment)). To me, learning is an internal process that we do. We do need to define what attributes of informal learning that we are interested in. Personally when I was on my degree course (before VLE's), my study habits were my own whatever methods I used to achieve understanding and learning; where group work was required I worked with the group. That's my learning style. We need to be aware that we don't intrude where we are not wanted!
I’d be interested in how we go about measuring if/when informal learning (assumed non-assessed) is taking place in our setting and do we really need to if the outcome of informal learning is assessed through formal learning? Or do we need to identify which forms of informal learning can be assessed or those forms which make the learning experience more enjoyable and suitable to different learning styles? Could Wiki’s/Blogs used in online learning be defined as informal learning? Lots and lots of questions.
The role of perception of these formal/informal settings may influence the usage of which web 2.0 tools are deployed. These SNS may be perceived as more appealing for setting up the environment for informal learning as opposed to an institutional owned social setting. Who knows? Does our current platform take ‘control’ away from the learner; do we need an environment where the learner can have some control and direction? I’m interested to see to what degree we have a role in the students informal learning taking place using ‘e’ tools, as well as the characteristics of an institutional setting for promoting informal learning – what’s in it for ‘us’ and the students? By providing such a ‘environment’ are we just giving students another space or can we learn from the ‘informal learning environment’ to feed back into our ‘formal learning environment’. There has been lots of work carried out in this field and some good papers floating around.
No doubt we will be delving more into this area…what is your take?