Sunday, September 11, 2011

Off-piste learning

Informal learning is becoming more organised (if that isn't a contradiction). If you want to learn something the net is full of free resources that can inform, inspire, instruct and provoke. There's no need to wait for someone to organise a course to attend, you just get started. Pick and choose from thousands of online lectures from the world's universities, read articles and open scientific journals, read blogs and participate in discussion groups. It's all out there but few people are able to really exploit these opportunities. Most people do not have the information literacy skills to find the material, make advanced searches, check the validity and so on. You also need to find others with similar interests who can support you and provide you with feedback. You need to find a network to help you learn.

So why not take a course in how to be a self-learner? This also sounds a bit contradictory but there are an increasing number of initiatives trying to help more people take charge of their informal learning by offering courses (albeit non-traditional courses) in how to do it yourself. Peer 2 Peer University has now teamed up with Anya Kamenetz, author of the book The Edupunk’s Guide to a DIY Credential to run an open and free course, DIY U: Getting started with self learning. It is due to run this autumn and I suspect there will be more of the same in the future. As with all P2PU courses it's very much student-driven and there's no traditional teacher up front to instruct. The course is divided into 4 main tasks: Write a personal learning plan, Build your personal learning network, Find a mentor, Demonstrate value to a network. These are the vital elements in being able to take charge of your own learning, whether it is for your career development or interest.

The phenomenon of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is another example of the meeting between formal and informal learning. Universities are arranging free and open courses without formal academic credits where students from all over the world can work through the tasks and collaborate around different themes. A hard core stay the full course whereas others are very active only on the tasks they feel most interested in. In addition there are always a large number of curious onlookers who don't really get involved but want to see what's happening. These "lurkers" are not a problem because many of them are just testing for future reference and may participate fully next time round. I know because I've been one!

Stephen Downes has now created a new site on how to run a MOOC, The MOOC Guide, with background, rationale, practice, examples and advice. This is very timely as more MOOCs are being launched and interest grows.I've only skimmed through the guide but it seems comprehensive and authoritative, as you would expect from one of the leading figures in open education today. Again these courses are all about building you learning network and developing it. Your network is not just a group of people who attend the same course for a few months, they will be there in the future too and your network will evolve and develop as you learn more.

Do it yourself education is not just about self study in front of your laptop. Learning requires communication and context. Doing it yourself means being able to build a network of people who can help you learn and who are also learning, though not necessarily the same things as you are. Defining what you want to learn, finding like-minded people and helping each other find material to discuss and work through are the skills that all schools and colleges should be teaching today.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I would definitely like to see more. Please keep us updated. Thanks so much!