Supporting Informal Learning and Practice

Dear world…I emptied my aggregator yesterday and started from scratch. I’m not sure why. I think it’s partially because I was tired of seeing that I had 1500 unread posts and partially because I just wasn’t using it in any meaningful way. I would browse, read a few articles, but it never led to anything. My goal for the year is to be more engaged through commenting and writing and my flabby aggregator wasn’t helping.

This morning, I began the world anew and spent time browsing through Tim Owens’ blog. There is lots of great writing there so if he isn’t in your agrregator, he probably should be. He struck a cord with me when he suggested that everything isn’t completely new just because technology has advanced:

There’s no denying that things have changed. But it’s important to keep in mind the context of these changes. A student who is looking on Facebook and texting while writing a paper isn’t actually that much different than one 15 years ago that was studying for an exam while watching TV and talking on the home phone.

The more things change, they say, the more they stay the same. But things have changed, Tim suggests, particularly in terms of being able to reach out to a larger community of learners to support our own informal learning.  He gives the example of a co-worker who fixed her own washing machine and his own success at fixing his own car, both accessing help on the Internet. My husband has kept our tractor running with the help of several online communities. When I was ready to attempt making sauerkraut from our overabundance of cabbage, I found the wild fermenter.

But, I am still learning from face to face communities as well although none of them are associated with what we traditionally think of as formal education (ie, taking a course). Sometimes, they are organized learning opportunities. Last weekend, we attended a conference sponsored by the Virginia Association of Biological Farming. We got to hear from experts in everything from cows to mushrooms to berries to bees. But often they are informal: my husband gets help with the tractor from a local farmer who is something of an expert in keeping things running with rubber bands and duct tape. I brainstorm with a friend about baking and crafting and compare notes on setting up our hives for the season and how I might get the colony of bees out of my house and into a hive.

I appreciate both my online and face to face learning communities. Sometimes, I find myself longing for face to face interaction with some of my online friends. For instance, I am disappointed when a blogger I follow talks about a special face to face event in her community and I know I can’t attend. The secret, I suppose, is to find strong connections in both the virtual and analog worlds and I am blessed to have some of both.

One thought on “Supporting Informal Learning and Practice

  1. When I was seeking out a Masters program I specifically didn’t want a fully-online program, which was a change from my previous line of thinking. In online courses I find myself easily feeling disconnected and while I knew I couldn’t do a commute for every class I wanted some face to face interaction with colleagues going through the program. I found a hybrid program at GMU that was just an hour drive north and about 30% of the courses will be F2F with the rest of the work happening online, which seems to be a perfect fit for me. So I feel you that I think there is absolutely value in both and it doesn’t necessarily have to be a zero-sum game.

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