I’m reading David Shaffer’s “How Computer Games Help Children Learn” and will be writing a detailed review once I finish the book, which is excellent so far. I can also say that this book is not just about how children learn, as it’s applicable to learners of all ages.
In the section on professionalism, I found a connection between informal learning and professionalism. To quote Shaffer:
Creativity is a conversation – a tension – between individuals working on individual problems and the professional communities they belong to.
This reflects much of what is happening between the bloggers in the informally-bounded educational technology community. We are discussing our individual concerns and issues with the larger community of “professionals”:
A professional is anyone who does work that cannot be standardized easily and who continuously welcomes challenges at the cutting edge of his or her expertise.
Shaffer goes on to discuss Vigotsky’s zone of proximal development [the gap between a learner’s current development level and the learner’s potential level of development]. I believe that professionals immersed in communities of practice or continuously pushing their informal learning opportunities can have a larger zone of proximal development. They are more open to learning and to expanding their knowledge. I have had a huge growth in my professional network since I started blogging. These professional conversations are not possible off-line when you live outside a major urban centre, as I do. Today, active involvement in informal learning, particularly through web-based communities, is key to remaining professional and creative in a field.
To paraphrase Jay, informal learning is more about your network than your knowledge. This seems obvious when you use Shaffer’s definitions of creativity and professionalism. You need the network to engage in the problem-solving conversations at the edge of your expertise.
I wonder if these conversations are even possible in urban centres. The thing I find so much more effective about the network learning I do is that it’s asynchronous and done on my time. And yet IM and Skype and others make synchronous discussion imminently possible when needed or necessary. And all of that is what to me at least poses such a challenge to the traditional work of classrooms where we are all expected to learn the same things at the same time.