Clarifying Informal Learning & Web 2.0

I've been reading The CU Online Handbook which I found through someone's else blog. It's a fairly big document and I wasn't sure it was worth wading through. However, early on I've found a good article which has some insightful comments on Informal and Web 2.0.

Apart from a belief that informal learning needs to be acknowledged and utilize in our education, I have a lot of "learning" to do on informal. The following quote by Phil Antonelli in the chapter Make, Share, Find: Web 2.0 and Informal Learning has helped:

"learning is a natural human cognitive process that is constantly occurring whether someone is in a formal learning setting or not. A simple example of this is how toddlers learn to speak their native tongue. They may be "coached" by parents and familiy members but barring physical deficits there are no formal classes necesary to learn ot speak. This type of learning had been defined as informal learning."

This is a useful example. Just as I hope we can eventually drop the e off e-learning, I hope we can eventually drop the informal/formal prefix to learning. Let's just learn! And not have it defined against our organisational structure or the delivery methods.

Phil also uses a useful classification structure of Make, Share, Find with Web 2.0. In the past, I've used the classification from the document Education 2.0? Designing the web for teaching and learning which aligned web 2.0 with four typically human dispositions:

  • Socialising the playful: games and virtual worlds
  • Socialising the expressive: media design, sharing, and publication
  • Socialising the reflective: blogs, social networks, and wikis
  • Socialising the exploratory: syndication, recommenders, folksonomies
The latter is more comprehensive and more academic, but the former feels like a better way of spreading the message. I always look for the simplist way to explain something. You could align:
  • Make with playful and expressive
  • Share with reflective
  • Find with exploratory
I'll keep reading and share the learning here.

eLearning Learning, Blogging and Reflection

I've joined the eLearningLearning stable run by Tony Karrer. Thanks again for the invite Tony!

I read his blog and was aware of the growing aggregation resource of Learning Technology opinion within eLearningLearning so it seems like a good idea to become part of it. I don't actual use the eLearningLearning site as my blog source (I have a carefully put together google reader list), but I can see the attraction of subscribing to this one feed to get the the best Learning Technology opinion. Having joined, it's been useful looking at the list of blogs featured because I've found some new good ones to read. Anyway, if you are reading this you probably know all about eLearningLearning because that's probably where you came from.

The question I am reflecting on now is whether having a greater potential readership will affect this valuable reflective tool I have. I'm pretty sure it won't. I always write as if I'm talking to someone so I'll just continue in that vein. What's important is that I don't lose focus of the essence of this blog. Something I outlined in my very first post:

My aim with this blog is to fill the sharing and reflecting side of my Personal Learning in my role as an e-learning professional.

Also, I am mindful of this passage from a later post - Blogs for education, blogs for yourself

My motivation for blogging is to capture my learning for myself. By making it public facing, I’m forced to be coherent, and it’s in that process where the learning happens. Quite often I end up in different places than I expected. So for me, if no one reads it, the blog is still valuable since it serves my purpose.

It's the reflection I want to keep hold of. I had an interesting discussion about this today. The person I was speaking to didn't find reflection easy. I think this is true of lots of people. But I think it's more to do with the process not being something we are used to. Reflection and the learning that results is a very personal thing. So often, education is about reaching a perscribed learning goal. A goal achieved through a perscribed learning path. And once they reach this goal is achieved why bother going any further. Why personalise your learner by reflecting on it with reference to everything else you know.

Thinking about my reflective time, I've only really been doing it for that last 6 months and that's because of this blog. Certainly, it was never a part of my education. This blog has exceeded my expectations. I wouldn't have thought having a virtual space for my learning would be so important, but it is. Maybe because it's so easy to make look professional, so easy to edit, so easy to link to. Whatever it is, it works for me. I can recommend it.

Review of Traxler’s ‘Students and Mobile Devices’

Originally published on the Educational Technology Journal

I heard that the best ALT (Association of Learning Technology, UK) paper this year was Students and Mobile Devices: Choosing Which Dream by John Traxler so I thought I’d review it.

Generally, it was very interesting and gives a good overview of the implications mobile devices have for education. There were times when the words “mobile devices” could have been replaced with “Web 2.0″ and there were points with which I disagree.

Here some of the key passages with my comments:

“Students no longer need to engage with information and discussion at the expense ofreal life but can do so as part of real life as they move about the world, using their own devices to connect them to people and ideas…”

That’s a great description, isn’t it. Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s great. When you read it, you need to think in terms of multimedia rather than text. However, for the connect part I don’t think we are there yet. Certainly, my iphone doesn’t connect well enough in enough places to be used in this way.

“Interacting with mobile technolgies is different and is woven into all the times and places of students’ lives. Mobile phones have created “simultaneity of place”: a physical space and a virtual space of conversational interaction, and an extension of physical space, through the creation and juxtaposition of a mobile social space.”

Thinking about it, maybe mobile devices more than Web 2.0 in general will have more success in challenging the domination of the didactic lecture. With mobile technologies woven in, education will have to accomodate them and their social nature will slowly creep into the teaching and learning.

“When we say we can ignore desktop technologies but not mobile technologies we mean that desktop technologies operate in their own little world, mobile technologies operate in the world.”

Again, this is catchy, but I think this goes too far. It’s not as if every office space with a computer exists in another world or is outside reality. Anyway, the point is well made that there is a here-and-now aspect to mobile technologies that can surely be utilised by education.
“With the possibility of perpetual contact, the mobile phone ends in fact by shaping time as a container of potentially continuing connection.”

With the always on connection and a myriad of methods to do so, the only constraints to staying in contact is the consent of the people involved. There are now no restrictions. It’s worth saying that this isn’t all about mobile technologies because once people reach home most switch to laptops/PCs. What this means for education is that it’s one of the more obvious challenges to the ridiculous notion that we learn in neat sessions according to a timetable Monday-Friday. This is part of the formal vs informal learning debate.

“Mobile devices are also eroding physical place as a predominant attribute of space. The phrase absent presence (Gergen, 1996) describes situations where groups of people physically together, co-located, are all connected elsewhere.”

This is challenging the physical buildings of our education institutions. Some good points in this issue have been made in the CreateDebate: UK Higher Education needs more radical change than a debate about who funds it. It’s worth noting that it’s wrong to attribute all these notions to mobile technologies in isolation. I see them as part of the Web 2.0/socail media ethos — an ethos which has at its heart the natural human inclination to communicate, network, and, above all, socialise. I talk about this in my blog post Use Social Media — Fulfill Your Destiny!.

“Educational provision is built around time and place: the timetable, hand-in dates, the classroom, the year-group, the deadline and the laboratory… the education system, especially the formal university system, is getting out of step with how many students perceive the world they live in and… changes are needed to keep universitites aligned to a changed and mobile society.”

This is worth recording because it echoes a sentiment that I agree with: Higher education is behind the schools when it comes to use of learning technologies. Again with the above, you could substitute the word “mobile” with “Web 2.0.”

“These changes and trends will cause significant shifts in the idea of ownership,specifically the ownership of technology and of knowledge.”

This is an important point that relates to learners taking more control of their learning. However, it needs unpicking. From students’ point of view, they are owning when and where they access their learning so there is freedom and choice in that sense. This is important because of the impact that it should have on the way learning is delivered.

“In its earliest forms, knowledge and learning came from lectures, a linear format from an authoritative ’sage-on-the-stage’ with no pause, fast forward or rewind, and from books, substantial and linear but segmented and randomly accessed. the delivery of knowledge and learning by networked comptuers meant . . . new heuristics of usablity that prescribed how knowledge and learning should be chunked and presented.”

There are two important issues here. First, a major motivation for change from me. The transmissive mode is flawed because if you miss something then you’ve missed it. And if you’ve missed something at the beginning then that’s it for the rest of the lesson. It’s as if part of the challenge of learning is being able to concentrate fully for the entire time. Any mind wandering (something I do) and, well, that’s tough! Any disruption (more on this later) like communication and you’re out!

The other issue is the attempts at chunking of textbooks that I remember from school. We would skip from chapter to chapter in an attempt to follow a contextualised route through the learning. You would think once a better mechanism for achieving this were invented education would jump all over it.

“Mobiles devices extend and enhance this voice because they allow users to capture content, for example images, sounds, data and voices themselves, form the real world, from events as they happen, specific to when and where they happen.”

It’s important to note that the other big area where mobile devices can really make a difference (apart from the “simultaneity of place” issue) is with multimedia. It really is so powerful to be able take videos and photos on the spot and network this immediately.


It’s important to note that the other big area where mobile devices can really make a difference . . . is with multimedia. It really is so powerful to be able take videos and photos on the spot and network this immediately.


Now some things I disagreed with:

“There are drawbacks. The first is that these developments reinforce a tendency to view knowledge and other forms of content merely as commodities or assets. The second is that this choice and control are exercised at a purely personal level, allowing individuals to each pursue their own curiosity, constructing their own private libraries and inhabiting their own worlds of knowledge. This erodes the idea of a commonly accepted canon, a common curriculum, of things we all need to know and are assumed to know and replaces it with what some poeple have referred to a neo-liberal nightmare — not dream but nightmare.”

With the first point, I don’t really see the problem. How people view the knowledge or engage with the learning is up to them. We don’t need to control how people think. The second point I disagree with. He views greater learner freedom and a loosening of control over educational institutions over any aspect of the learning process as a bad thing. The opposite is true for me. He’s actually describing a utopian PLE. Strange as this passage seems at odds with the spirit of the rest of the paper.

More on disruption: “There is a weak version of disruption that amounts to nuisance; phone calls in class, texting in exams, photographs that should not be taken, inappropriate ring-tones and so on. There is however also a strong version of disruption. These devices allow students to access and store images and infromation of their own choosing and perhaps create and distribute new images and information independently of the lecturers and of the university.”

I would add communication opportunities to this. What he’s challenging here is the notion of disruption as necessarily bad. — a notion that prevails at present. Certainly, mobile devices are seen purely as a nuisance in current educational structures. Theweak version description is what they say, but really the strong version of disruption is what they are worried about — worried that they will have to change and accommodate.

On infrastructure: “Wholeheartedly adapting an approach centred on student devices is challenging and radical for institutional IT units. Their roles would change drastically, depending on the institution and its mission, and on its finances.”

Not much to say except yes. But I don’t think, wholeheartedly, adaptation will happen any time soon. Here and now, wifi has to be standard and of a high quality in education and elsewhere.

Some points about formal/informal learning: “We used to make a distinction betweenformal learning activities in our universities on our equipment and self-motivatedlearning activities outside our institutions not on our equipment… If we are to embrace student devices, this simple dichotomy breaks down and the boundary becomes blurred.”

This is informal or learning that needs to, first, be acknowledged and then engaged. The breaking down of the boundaries is only troublesome if you teach by habit rather than design. If you have deliberate and informed learning design then catering for this is manageable.

“Guaranteeing e-safety becomes more problematic when on the one hand we encourage the use of student devices for learning but on the other hand have no ability or authority to control how, when or where they are used, nor any control over the applications, data or networks they support. At the very least, policies of acceptable use must evolve rapidly to address the affordances of student devices.”

I think seeing everything through the prism of control isn’t correct here. It comes from a standpoint where the institutions are at the centre of education rather than the learner, which is wrong. E-safety is so overplayed in education. Yes, we need to take care, but we shouldn’t shut things down on this proviso. Also, I wouldn’t worry about “policies of acceptable use” as these seem to spring up almost before they know how to use something.

About training: “. . . faces staff developers with the enormous challenge of preparing teachers and lecturers to work with a range of devices.”

Yes, and this is a mantra of mine as I can often not get past this area in my context. However, I would say that the goalposts are shifting in this respect. Increasingly, new tools/environments are becoming easy to use and more intuitive. So it’s more a case of getting educator to experience using a tool/environment rather than learning how-to use it. Only by experiencing a tool/environment can they understand what it’s all about. This is particularly true of Web 2.0.

Use Social Media - Fulfil your Destiny!

There are some interesting ideas in the slideshow "Getting Real About Enterprise 2.0". By far the most interesting for me is slide 8:

"The social web emerged because it reflects basic HUMAN NEEDS."

I've been saying for a while something a bit like this - something like humans are naturally social and we use social media because we want to. Web 2.0 is popular because people want to use it. They want to share, network, create and above all communicate.

This presentation echoes this sentiment in a different and maybe preferable way. I like the idea that we are reflecting basic human needs through our use of the internet. It's as if we are inventing and finding the tools that we need to satisfy our natural inclinations. Ever since the printing press, we have gradually improved our methods of communication and the advances of the last few years are pretty impressive.

Anyway, another useful idea comes in slide 5 where it says "we need to see PEOPLE as the platform." This reflects a common thread running through the slideshow which holds the internet up as a force for demoncratic good. This is true - potentially. And why corporations/governments seek to control it.

From an education perspective, Web 2.0 is all about the user/learner participating and control. So, by incorporating Web 2.0, you are giving the learner more control, more chance at being creative, more chance at being social and more chance of fulfilling their destiny as a human being!

Lecture Your Way to Stardom!

Originally published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal.

Karl Kapp talks about teachers who have gone on to become rock stars in “Teacher . . . Stepping Stone to Rock Star?“ Interesting . . . and surprising they let a young Sting teach at a convent school! Anyway, my point here is the notion of teacher as a rock star is something that is common and can be negative when it comes to challenging the sage on the stage notion and moving towards a more collaborative approach. Sometimes I see it in their eyes: “Do you really think I’m going to give up being the centre of attention?” Of the many barriers to the adoption of learning technologies of the Web 2.0 variety, this is one of the least acknowledged.

Taking the focus away from the teacher/lecturer isn’t what the all powerful one wants. This is where ego gets in the way, and quite simply there are many who like the sound of their own voice too much. When thinking about a blended approach, how likely is it that someone like this is going to countenance replacing some of the face-to-face with e-learning? Or adopt any kind of learner centric approach that diminishes his or her role from expert to facilitator or guide?

I am, of course, playing devil’s advocate to some extent. I have more respect for the teaching profession than almost any other, and there are so many brilliant teachers. However, some of the brilliant ones fall into the above category. They need to be more flexible and, in some ways, feel less threatened by new ideas.

Remember the focus should be on what’s best for the learner — not the teacher.

Protecting the System vs Helping the Learning

In Don’t, Don’t, Don’t vs. Do, Do, Do, Will Richardson talks about how he turned around a hefty policy of don't concerning use of the internet to a heft policy of, well, possibilities. It's useful to record here his list of do's:

“Do use our network to connect to other students and adults who share your passions with whom you can learn.”
“Do use our network to help your teachers find experts and other teachers from around the world.”
“Do use our network to publish your best work in text and multimedia for a global audience.”
“Do use our network to explore your own creativity and passions, to ask questions and seek answers from other teachers online.”
“Do use our network to download resources that you can use to remix and republish your own learning online.”
“Do use our network to collaborate with others to change the world in meaningful, positive ways.”

This is a conversation that I am familiar with and I feel a common reaction education has to anything new is "How can we control it!" I remember how one the UK's Quangos was obsessed with codes of practice and rules in their new online communities space before anyone was actually using it. Large amounts of energy were spent honing these rules and all it achieved was putting people off. I am always of the opinion that you should concentrate on building the community/network first. This is hard enough in itself! The rules and regulations should be buried and buried deep. Admittedly, my contexts have involved few instances of conflict online or audiences that you think would be prone to this sort of behaviour but I think we miss the point if we overplay this aspect.

As I said earlier it comes from the instinct within education to control (which I think is also part of the resistence to moving away from the didactic way of life - but that's another story). For an education institution's point of view they often view the internet (and to a certain extent the whole of Web 2.0) as a challenge to the status quo; a potential for trouble; a potential for too much student power. I can't deny this potential, this challenge. But I advocate the use of the internet, and the Web 2.0 world, because of the do's eloquently described above.
Notice that the do's are all to do with learning and the rules and regulations have, at their heart, the purpose of protecting the institution/the system. Which should be more important?

Learning Technologies - Disrupting Teaching and Learning

Sessums comments in Reflections on Transforming Teaching and Learning ring true with me.

"only disruptive innovation—adopting digital learning wholesale—will change education. This disruption is most likely to emerge in places where traditional ways of teaching are outright failing; over time..."

Where I have been able to get academic use of Learning Technology to influence their teaching and learning in my workplace it's been where we are starting from scratch or addressing perceived "failure" - usually low recruitment. Trying to influence an established course taught in the traditional didactic way - forget it. Almost exclusively, the academia won't entertain the idea of thinking about how they teach. I've reflected on this before in Challenging didactic teaching. In these cases (which is the norm), failure is not perceived because this is how we teach. Learning Technologies are extra tools which they don't have time to and don't want to learn about. This is where the above quote is spot on. It is disruptive. Especially, if you do it properly and really reflect on how this tool or that tool can impact on the teaching and learning in your course. Who wants disruption?

The learning journey continues....

Social Media - Negativity

I am often surprised of the way some will talk about social media. Some of the comments quoted on Reflections on Students and Social Media: Consuming the Consumed seem to think of it as some sort of monster devouring and deviling everything in it's path. A force for evil destroying all that is natural and innocent. I'm exaggerating of course but I think this misses the point. People use social media because THEY WANT TO; because it's a good way of communicating. Clearly, a better and easier than that which existed before. If this wasn't the case, all the different social media environment that are part of everyday life for so many of us would have died before they started.

It's fair to point out that a lot of the comments on this blog post came as a response to a leading question - In what ways are we at a tipping point with social media? Who says we are? With the myriad of things that constitute social media more is bound to follow as we develop and innovate. Much of the sentiment of fear and annoyance over social media is about the time spent using it. Well this is time spent COMMUNICATING. This is time spent building networks, sharing ideas and creating. How can this be anything but good.

This is not meant as a attack on a blogger I respect and read regularly but an attack on the attacks that reign in on the force for good that is social media.

Connectivism Course - First thoughts

I signed up for the Connectivism and Connective Knowledge open course and it started this week. I used to read Stephen Downes daily so I know and respect his work and I try to read both George Seimens' and Downes' blog when I get a chance. I've been looking forward to it for a while but there is a slight air of tredipation as I worry about disciplining myself to commit the time to it. For example, I hoped to be writing this first blog entry on Tuesday and it's Thursday already! My biggest attraction to participating is the way the course is delivered, the lack of structure, the openness, the use of networks and, well, connectivism. Not that I know exactly what that is at the moment.

Anyway, the purpose of this post to give my first thoughts on reading, watching and listening to the initial set of resources posted on Monday. Even though I've heard of connectivism and pretty much know nothing about it so I am starting from scratch with this.

I probably made the mistake of reading the What Connectivism Is blog post by Downes first. This was the hardest to understand, but things became clearer once I'd watched all the videos and read the Wellman paper. As I expected, I found it difficult to grasp the finer points of the pedagogy and this will probably take a few weeks. So here is what I think I've learnt about connectivism.

Esesentially, learning is all about networks. Knowledge is distributed across the networks and learning is about traversing them, tapping into them and creating them. Technology has a role because it makes the process easier and much more accessible. Thinking about the networks possible over the www makes connectivism easier to conceptualise.

Knowledge is not an entity in itself "it's literally set of connections formed by action and experience." I've quoted Downes here because I don't really get this. I'll try and expand staying close to his words - knowledge is an inability to see something another way. Once seen, it can't be unseen. Stephen also says that two people seeing the same thing don't form the knowledge. I think this means that it's different based on the connection each person is making or the network of knowledge they have traversed to get to this point is always going to be different.

I started off seeing connectivism as a underlying network of all knowledge that was always there and it's just a question of finding it. But following what Seimens says - not everything is known. Connectivism is about making associations or the ability, the skill to make associations. "Learning is a process of growth and development." I'm quoting again to hold onto what is me and not me.

Downes ends his video with 2 objectives:

1. how networks are grown or network, processes you go through
2. Successful networks – what networks work and are reliable.

I look forward to finding out more on these.

That's enough for now.

Characteristics of Millenials

Tony Bates in It's all about Millenials - or is it? explores the whole issue of we need to use technology because they are. He is right that we shouldn't accept this notion knowing all the facts and the lack of real, hard evidence for the net generation concept is worrying. I've never been an advocate of the idea that Millenials (this is first time I am hearing this particular word) are somehow wired differently. Anyone who’s experiences and uses Web 2.0 should be considered a Millenial, whatever their age.

Also, it’s useful to see these characteristics of the net generation by Oblinger and Oblinger (2005a):

  • digitally literate in the sense of being comfortable and familiar with digital technology
  • connected to friends and the world through technology
  • ‘immediacy’: rapid multi-tasking, fast response to communications - experiential: they prefer to learn by doing rather than being told
  • highly social: ‘they gravitate toward activities that promote and reinforce social interaction’
  • group work: they prefer to work and play in groups or teams
  • a preference for structure rather than ambiguity
  • engagement and interaction: an orientation towards action and inductive reasoning rather than reflection
  • a preference for visual (i.e. graphics, video) and kinesthetic learning rather than learning through text
  • active engagement in issues that matter to millennials

It’s worth noting that currently in Higher Education this is not the case for many. Certainly for my institution, The Institute of Education, which has a lot of mature and overseas students, it is common not to fit this profile. However, I would still advocate a strategy would has the above points in mind when it comes to learning design. This is because it’s up to any teacher/lecturer to design the best learning experience possible. If you believe the above is better than the normal didactic, transmissive model then it’s worth pursuing even if the class is out of their comfort zone initially. Just because you fulfil their expectations and experiences by doing “the norm”, it doesn’t make it right.