Tag Archives: informal learning

Stephen Covey & Informal Learning

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.

Johnson writes:

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.

Making Time & Space for Informal 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?

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.