We’re currently in our second Informl Learning Unworkshop, using various web tools that didn’t exist several years ago, with participants around the globe.
My initial experiences in the learning field were from the point of view of methods of instruction (how to get subject matter across to captive students) and later, the systems approach to training (from which flows instructional systems design or ISD). Later I became immersed in human performance technology, and found it a good method to analyse certain aspects of organisational performance. HPT ensures that training, which is costly, isn’t prescribed unless it addresses a verifiable lack of skills and/or knowledge. Even HPT itself seems to be too constrained for me now.
What I like about informal learning is that it opens up the way to look at other methods of helping people to learn. Training and education are two sets of tools but there are many more. Options for learning have increased exponentially with access to the Internet. As with any new technology, we first put the old media (modules, courses, classrooms, programs, degrees) into the new medium. Now that some of us are becoming more comfortable with the medium, we are seeing more experimentation.
Using blogs, wikis, podcasts or social bookmarks for learning can change the dynamic from teaching-centric to learning-centric. Informal learning is not new, but the ways in which we can connect with others have improved drastically (skype, anyone?). Informal learning is about connecting – whether it be to information or people.
The network effect of the Web is explained in detail in Yochai Benkler’s The Wealth of Networks. Benkler describes the changes that a networked society can have on our governance, economic and cultural structures [more to follow on this book as I savour every page]:
The networked information economy improves the practical capacities of individuals along three dimensions: (1) it improves their capacity to do more for and by themselves; (2) it enhances their capacity to do more in loose commonality with others, without being constrained to organize their relationship through a price system or in traditional hierarchical models of social and economic organization; and (3) it improves the capacity of individuals to do more in formal organizations that operate outside the market sphere. This enhanced autonomy is at the core of all the other improvements I describe. Individuals are using their newly expanded practical freedom to act and cooperate with others in ways that improve the practiced experience of democracy, justice and development, a critical culture, and community.
Learning skills, especially outside the formal training & education sphere, are necessary for everyone in our society to take advantage of the opportunities of a networked information economy. I believe that the development of environments that nurture informal, networked learning will be the ISD of the 21st century.