My big take away from Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People was the same as Eric Jackson who wrote an elegy in Forbes on the occasion of Covey’s death in 2012.
We all need to spend more time in the second quadrant of Covey’s time management matrix: the not urgent but important quadrant. Long term planning, relationship building, research: those kinds of tasks that we know we should be doing but get pushed aside to put out fires and focus on things that seem important but aren’t.
The most important thing you can do in your career relating to this simple two-by-two matrix is to do some Quadrant 2 stuff (not urgent but important) every day. At least 10% of your day needs to be devoted to this important but not urgent stuff. Ideally, you’re spending 30% of every day on this.
I think Covey meant this to be time for informal learning. Time to explore: read that article or blog post or newsletter, post that question to a community, google an acronym or topic, finally figure out what Reddit has to offer. Maybe write your own blog post musing about a topic. We don’t always have a goal or even a direction for our learning.
I have spent many years of my life teaching and learning in formal environments. I have tried, as much as possible, to include student choice in those environments. My middle school students chose their own reading materials and writing topics and genres. My graduate students pursue a passion project as a way to explore their own area of interest in ed tech. But, this kind of learning still happens in a formal way, with goals and objectives and some type of assessment.
Informal learning seems more open ended: the participants in the #UnisonEDU chat mentioned learning through networks like Twitter or YouTube. In fact, much of what I know about Minecraft was learned from 5th graders on YouTube. They listen to podcasts on their way to work and connect with others in communities like Reddit. They learn in face to face environments as well through EdCamps and conversations with colleagues. While it may not be built into the school day or recognized with continuing education units, informal learning is taking place in schools.
At least among the teachers…informal learning for students was a little harder for people to imagine. Teachers are, as I did with my students, finding ways to incorporate student choice and voice, but the content is largely untouchable. Informal learning suggests exploring resources without any particular goals or objectives: clicking around, pursuing various threads, letting curiosity take the lead. A plan may emerge eventually, but it will be self-imposed. Not that informal learning isn’t taking place in school: as part of student group work or during free time around lunch and recess, any time students have time to create and collaborate with their colleagues or when a structured conversation slides a bit off topic.
What do you think? Can we find a way to give kids informal learning time during the school day? Can we fit formal and informal together?