Tuesday, November 1

Characteristics of Formal and Informal Learning Episodes

Allen Tough, a Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto, focused his research on the adult's successful efforts to learn and change; and in particular the 70% that are self-guided without relying much on professionals or institutions (informal learning). During his research, he discovered that people spend an average of 15 hours per week learning on their own.

In the late 1970s, Patrick Penland, a library school professor at the University of Pittsburgh, became quite interested in Tough's research. He performed a survey in which a section of it pertains to why learners prefer to learn on their own, rather than in a class or course. The main reasons, in ranking order, are:

  1. Desire to set my own learning pace.
  2. Desire to use my own style of learning.
  3. I wanted to keep the learning strategy flexible and easy to change.
  4. Desire to put my own structure on the learning project.
  5. I didn't know of any class that taught what I wanted to know.
  6. I wanted to learn this right away and couldn't wait until a class might start.
  7. Lack of time to engage in a group learning program.
  8. I don't like a formal classroom situation with a teacher.
  9. I don't have enough money for a course or class.
  10. Transportation to a class is too hard or expensive.

What is interesting about the survey is that for the most part, it is not that learners lack resources or hate attending formal classes, for these items are at the bottom of the rankings, but rather they prefer being in charge of their own learning.

In addition, the top items in the rankings show that while learners prefer to take charge of their own learning, it does not mean that they enjoy solitary learning. Tough discovered that within each informal learning episode (where the primary motivation is to gain and retain certain knowledge and skill on a task or thing), the average learner interacts with an average of 10 people. In fact, there may actually be more social interactions during informal learning episodes than there are in classrooms. Thus, we begin to get a picture of why blended learning became the next step in the elearning evolutionary process.

While the last two items pertain to a lack of resources, the first eight items show a desire to take charge (learner control) of one's own learning episodes. These eight "design" characteristics control or impact most learning episodes:

  1. Desire to set my own learning pace = self-pace.
  2. Desire to use my own style of learning = personalized.
  3. I wanted to keep the learning strategy flexible and easy to change = tactical.
  4. Desire to put my own structure on the learning project = empowerment.
  5. I didn't know of any class that taught what I wanted to know = complex.
  6. I wanted to learn this right away and couldn't wait until a class might start = just-in-time.
  7. Lack of time to engage in a group learning program = flexibility
  8. I don't like a formal classroom situation with a teacher = casual.

The chart below shows each learner control characteristic that leads to informal learning and its opposite -- the corresponding designer control characteristic that leads to formal learning.





Click to Enlarge




Note that these characteristics are not set in stone, but rather they are the norm. This is because formal and informal learning episodes borrow from each other, for example, some formal classrooms are self-paced and some informal learning episodes are off-the-shelf.

With the focus nowadays turning more towards the learner, learning characteristics from both the informal and formal sides have naturally gotten more informal. At times, this has interesting consequences, for example, focusing on learning style preferences, which are often incorrect for the type of learning taking place, rather than a style that will actually enhance the learning taking place.

How do you see the joining of formal and informal learning episodes?

4 comments:

Peter Isackson said...

Excellent stuff, Don. I think you could take the analysis even further on some of the points:

· Desire to set my own learning pace = self-pace.

This may not be a positive desire to set one’s own pace but rather a refusal to have an inflexible and artificial pace imposed by a trainer. Learners in a group, like cyclists in a race, are stimulated by pace-setters and find their own ideal rhythm, both individually and as part of the peleton. But the traditional classroom model doesn’t allow this, since the teacher imposes the program and the pace.

· Desire to use my own style of learning = personalized.

The same thing could be said here. Most people don’t know much about their learning styles, but they do know what they don’t like about teaching styles. I also feel that the whole discussion about learning styles skirts around a more fundamental issue: discourse style. Discourse expresses both personality and authority. These have much more dynamic impact on learning than a supposed inherent learning style. And discourse works both ways: it’s input and output. Learning works best when there's a dynamic balance between the two, something that has always been neglected or repressed in traditional teaching and training.

· I wanted to keep the learning strategy flexible and easy to change = tactical.

This pretty much sums it up, but personal decision-making isn’t the only critical factor in flexibility.

· Desire to put my own structure on the learning project = empowerment.

I’m not sure learners really want this, but self-learners will certainly say they want it. Our educational system has taught us not to look for empowerment. And like the other points, I see it more as a vote of no confidence in trainers and their programs than of a desire to run the show themselves.

· I didn't know of any class that taught what I wanted to know = complex.

This could also be a question of simple: “I just want to know how to do something and not hear about what professional theorists are paid to argue among themselves about.” The complexity probably comes from wanting to understand how what I’m learning relates to other kinds of experiences and facts in real contexts, something that’s often missing from formal learning.

· I wanted to learn this right away and couldn't wait until a class might start = just-in-time.

Nothing particular to add here.

· Lack of time to engage in a group learning program = flexibility

This appears to be similar to the preceding point. But I believe we should avoid the temptation to think that individualism is the only or best way of achieving flexibility.

· I don't like a formal classroom situation with a teacher = casual.

I think a more pertinent suggestion might be real as opposed to artificial. As you point out, Don, formal and informal are complementary and “there’s a time for everything.” But what's off-putting in traditional teaching is its artificial nature or rather discourse (this is probably also be true of a lot of eLearning)

Carmen Ferrara said...

Very interesting study and related analysis. Considering the initial survey was done in the 1970's - I think it is interesting to note that the learner preferences that were found tend to lend themselves very nicely to online, asynchronous learning.

David Grebow said...

Nice analysis Don, useful in the work I'm doing. Regarding your question "How do you see the joining of formal and informal learning episodes?"

I don't see them merging, and would not join them. For once we need to listen to the Voice of the Customer - the student (i.e. Knowledge Consumer), instead of trying to save our jobs as developers of formal training by adding informal and hybrid or blended learning.

Your post tells me that formal developers,who are finally realizing their work means very little to people learning to do a job in the workplace, are casting about for new job descriptions.

The reports I've read, and evidence I hear anecdotally, indicate that blended learning is viewed as formal learning by employees. Informal still dominates because people who create formal programs will never be able to duplicate informal learning.

I think the more germane questions are "Okay, the evidence is overwhelming, we surrender, informal learning is the biggest component of learning in the workplace." Period. So the challenges are:

1. Can formal learning lay a foundation that will support the informal learning process?
2. Can we provide tools and systems (e.g. Subject Matter Expert Location Programs, Knowledge Repositories, etc. ) that enable the informal process to be more efficient and effective. Reduce the 15 hours a week to 10?
3. What can we learn from the informal process that may - or may not - inform a somewhat more formal approach?
4. How can we figure out when any learning - formal or informal - is not even needed? Where does 'just doing it' and moving on without ever learning a thing, become acceptable in terms of performance?
5. Can we discern where a more formal approach is really useful? Where does it realy help someone learn to begin to know and/or do something?

I really think that, for people who are currently involved with developing formal learning, informal learning is one of Clarke's elephants in the room. Actually I think it's the Great Wooly Mammoth.

I also think it's self-serving to try and co-opt a process that works, and has worked, for a long time just to try and save our jobs.

I say "Leave it alone." The worst thing that could happen to the informal learning process is for the formal learning developers to try and splice their formal approach onto the informal process.

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

徵信, 徵信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 感情挽回, 婚姻挽回, 挽回婚姻, 挽回感情, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信, 捉姦, 徵信公司, 通姦, 通姦罪, 抓姦, 抓猴, 捉猴, 捉姦, 監聽, 調查跟蹤, 反跟蹤, 外遇問題, 徵信, 捉姦, 女人徵信, 女子徵信, 外遇問題, 女子徵信, 徵信社, 外遇, 徵信公司, 徵信網, 外遇蒐證, 抓姦, 抓猴, 捉猴, 調查跟蹤, 反跟蹤, 感情挽回, 挽回感情, 婚姻挽回, 挽回婚姻, 外遇沖開, 抓姦, 女子徵信, 外遇蒐證, 外遇, 通姦, 通姦罪, 贍養費, 徵信, 徵信社, 抓姦, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信公司, 徵信, 徵信公司, 女人徵信, 外遇

徵信, 徵信網, 徵信社, 徵信網, 外遇, 徵信, 徵信社, 抓姦, 徵信, 女人徵信, 徵信社, 女人徵信社, 外遇, 抓姦, 徵信公司, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信公司, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信公司, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 女人徵信社, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 女子徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 征信, 征信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 征信, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社, 徵信, 徵信社,