Get the audio recording of Leigh talking at the first workshop about informal learning.
Get Jay Cross' Diagram of informal learning.

Presentation notes:
4am.. yep its another one of those sleepless mornings when counting sheep just won't settle the mind. Its like waiting for santa on christmas eve, or going through your paces before a big game... this time its what I'm going to say in the 10 minutes I've got today to sum up everything I represent in this game of teaching and learning.

I have 10 minutes to give a presentation in the first of 4 workshops as part of a course called Designing for Flexible Learning Practice. The course is part of a new certificate called "Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Learning and Teaching" being run in my place of work. It is a certificate that all teaching academic staff will likely be expected to have in our organisation, a trend of certification I am quite familiar with in Australia.

So anyway, I've decided to talk about the only thing worth teaching. My presentation is the last of 3. The others are talking to case studies in flexible learning design. One is talking about the development of an online learning resource, the other (I think) is talking about the development of an online learning community for a particular occupation area. The thing that has been worrying me (and the reason I'm awake at this hour) is that with a distributed and networked learning design (that's kinda what I want to talk about), it is difficult to find something that shows how it works at a glance.

That's why I love Jay Cross' graphic on informal learning. I intend to use this graphic to talk about what our organisation calls "graduate profile". A graduate profile is what a student will be like when they finish their time with us. It has statements in it about being a life long learner, a self directed learner, and stuff like that. I want to use that profile and combine it with Jay's illustration of informal learning, and set them up side by side and use them as the target learning outcome when designing for flexible learning.

So it might go something like this:

When a student comes to us, it is probably for one of 2 reasons. They are a novice learner and need support in starting out their learning in a particular area (a bus ride as Jay puts it); or they are an already expert learner (a bicycle rider as Jay puts it) and have to be here because some other piece of paper says they need this piece of paper. Not much I can do about the paper bit, and it certainly can be a demotivating distraction for some groups, but at least I can try to make the bus ride learning (designed for novice learners) interesting for bicycle riding self directed learners.

So, we have a group of novice learners in their first year. They are expert bicycle riders in other subject areas, but in ours they are confessing novice status and want to come on a bus ride (the lesson, or course plan). What we want to do as bus drivers is teach these people how to appreciate riding bicycles in our subject area. Make sense? Well it is 4:30am...

In short, we want these learners to be functional self directed learners in the field before they graduate. Our graduate profile is a bicycle rider.

What does this mean in real terms? It might go something like this:

In their first year (assuming we as teachers have the luxury of talking in years with our course plans) we join people to classrooms. These may be real 9 to 5 type classrooms or these may be virtual online classrooms. We start them off with presentations, lectures, our own learning materials, and otherwise passive/delivered information. But sooner than later we are asking them to start reproducing what they are learning and interacting with the subject.

In the second year (or phase) we introduce them to existing learning communities where they can witness a more informal learning process. It is here we start teaching how to learn this way. We wean them out of the classroom learning, building confidence around themselves and their understanding of the subject. We help them manage communications technology and the skills needed to work it to THEIR favour, and give incentives to use that technology in whatever informal learning they may already be involved in.

Finally in the third year or phase we add further incentives to now focus their informal learning processes on the subject. Taking their place in existing subject oriented learning communities, developing a voice within it and/or breaking away and starting a new learning community. The main point is to develop a person to be an expert self directed learner in the field before they walk out that "door" with a funny hat and a rolled up peice of paper.

Now with that seemingly obvious objective out of the way, what are some of the impediments to that happening? Well, the classroom for one. If by the end of the 3rd year or phase, your classroom or learning management system is still full, then the objective is still a long way off. You need to get as many as you can out of your classroom (bus) an on their own journey (bicycle) as you can in the short amount of tiime you have. In more than a few cases some people may take a lot longer to develop confidence in learning the field informally than others, a few of these may come to realise that your field is not what interests them. Other obstacles are in measuring learning or assessment, but these bureaucratic challenges are where the fun begins for a creative and energetic teacher.

So, its 5 am and I think I'll sleep on it for an hour or so now. But at least I have it out now. Its rough, and may not make any sense to anyone but me - I bet there are a bunch of people who are thinking that I have just contradicted myself in all this, but I have that in mind and I don't think I have. When I come to re-reading this, all puffy eyed and at work - we'll see.


  1. bronwyn said...

    Leigh it is a pity that you didn't go into a bit more detail in your presentation about informal learning.You make some very interesting and valid points.

    I believe, like you that the platform on which we all intermingle can only become interesting for learning if we enable and facilitate diversity. It is a pity that learners often don't get the opportunity to explore and have more freedom to problem solve until they are in their last year of study e.g. nurses or midwives who spend most of their third year learning flexibly and authentically in clinical settings....the supports are still there but they are often shaky.
    Your idea of helping students to start networking outside their immediate class group is an excellent one which would keep the supports in place and more able to bend with the changes they will encounter professionally.

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