Posted on September 14, 2013
Learning for me is both in and outside of a classroom and they are intertwined with experience and living. I have worked on projects both for residential instruction and elearning at Penn State in the formal definition of education. Learning, however, doesn’t have walls and we need to recognize that all of our interactions with people, situations, and environments are filled with learning or teaching moments. Informal learning can happen while waiting in line to check out at a grocery store, informal learning can happen when conversing with your neighbor while cutting the grass, informal learning can happen while waiting in line for caffeine.
As an example of how interest and self-initiated learning is relevant in relation to Barron’s article Interest and Self-Sustained Learning as Catalysts of Development: A Learning Ecology Perspective that “learning activities based on interests are likely to be boundary crossing,” I will use the adoption of my dog Malachi as an one that touches self and community. In order to be a consistent leader and responsible dog owner, I sought out books and online resources for the care, discipline, and training of my dog in order to introduce him into my lifestyle. Even though Barron deals with technology in the article, several of the types of self-initiated learning applies to my relationship with Malachi and my community. In adopting a shelter dog, I have sought out texts in the form of books and online material, I have created new activities in terms of training and commands and the rituals of daily life, structured learning opportunities in the form of dog training, and the exploration and development of mentoring in the form of interacting and participating with local dog owners.
In terms of place, according to Jamieson in his article The Serious Matter of Informal Learning, “it is a mechanism by which individuals make sense of the world and their own place within it.” And place “derives from thought, feeling, meaning, and understanding” and is not “separable” from identity. The adoption of a dog has altered my identity and how I interpret, navigate, and assess my surroundings is quite different. My walk in the woods, or as the picture indicates a walk up the creek, is much different as a dog owner compared to a non-dog owner. My awareness of my surroundings is much greater compared to my exploration as an individual. In terms of informal learning, I have to learn my surroundings as a leader, my relationship with my dog and how he interprets the surroundings, and guide and make decisions based on the moment. Malachi and I are reading each other as we maneuver through our surroundings. So for us our neighborhood is our place and how we make sense of the world and our role in it.
In terms of formalization and the continuum of generalization and individualization, per Reinhard Zürcher’s article Teaching-Learning Processes between Informality and Formalization although they can be placed on opposite ends they each contain elements of each other. Both formal and informal learning have form and both have teaching components to them. On one end you have the generalization of teaching and learning with a structured curricula, class time, required books, etc. And on the other end you have individualization where the curricula is more self-directed. However, there can still be formalized schooling as part of the self-directed learning. My participation within the Masters of Professional Studies in Art Education through Penn State’s World Campus is a good example of the unification of generalized and individualized teaching and learning. As Zürcher’s article points out:
So if there can be no teaching without learning (and vice versa), then we can formulate a ‘pedagogic interaction theorem’: teaching and learning always occur simultaneously.
So my definition of informal learning is more aligned with a unified concept, in that both informal and formal have form. They each have aspects of each other in terms of teaching and learning. I am able to informally learn in a formal or generalized course, as well as, formally learn in an informal course–such as in an online course. However, isn’t that the role of exploring and learning and finding ‘place’ within our surroundings? Isn’t that a definition of being human? Are we not splitting semiotic hairs by trying to define it? I understand that vagueness can be at times difficult to navigate, but why can’t we just let learning simply be?