Monday, March 07, 2005

Group, formal learning & Informal learning

Here are a few environment factors that drive me to look at the problem from this particular angle:

1. I have been critical about the school system in the developed countries (see Our world is changing, our schools are failing,.... but not mine to start with) and this view is starting to pick up discussions.

2. We started our life-long learning with informal learning. We learnt our initial vocab from our parents and immediate relatives. We learnt our basic social skill before going to kindergarten. We then started our formal learning stage, until we join the work force. Another cycle of informal learning starts again when we need to continue to improve our skills and adapt to new ways of doing things.

I don't believe it is time to start demolishing the school system any time soon. I still believe that there is a place for formal learning where children are offered "education" in a systematically via an institution.

3. There a strong current in promoting Blog (or other informal learning techniques) as the solution to a more liberated and appropriate learning technology, e.g. the work of Stephen Downes and others.

I am not disagreeing that informal learning has its place in our life. In fact I recognise how important they are.

As a technologist, I am looking at the fundamental difference in formal learning and informal learning and what they contribute to our formation of "us".

One of the major difference of formal learning and informal learning is the context in which we conduct our learning. At least with the current education system, during formal learning, we have a relatively steady group which we interact and work collaboratively and co-operatively for an extended period of time. We are obliged to work with the group, irrespectively of whether you find the group friendly or otherwise. We are also forced to take some subjects which we do not particularly enjoy. We learn to be disciplined enough in managing our time to meet artificially imposed deadlines (project deadlines set up by the teachers deliberately to make our life miserable!). We undergo very stressful examination which is useless to measure our own success - but with so much stake riding on it that we cannot forget about it.

In informal learning, we choose to participate in groups we like. We read blogs in line with our own thinking - as part of our continuous growth. On the other hand, we find information with the aim of solving immediate problems - just-in-time information, not just-in-case! Will my bias towards something increase due to my continual reading of material that reinforce my original bias? or will I be more inclusive of other ideas because I read wider?

Here are a lot of questions I don't have an answer.

But one thing I am sure. If the e-learning technology is to embrace both formal and informal learning, we must have a better understand of the effect of groups and cohorts. We must somehow build the concept of cohort into our learning standards and make a big splash about this concept. Collaborative learning strategies may be the thin edge needed to push this concept into main stream learning technologies.


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