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Section 2

Page history last edited by PBworks 12 years, 12 months ago

Section 2: informal learning and formal education


How a review of Formal and Informal Learning Models offer support to context based models


Before we examine a context-based model in more detail we will consider what we understand by formal and informal learning and see what we might learn if we “re-conceptualise the relationship between informal learning and formal education”


A key concept of LGC is;


“A Learner Generated Context can be defined as a context created by people interacting together with a common, self-defined or negotiated learning goal” which implies that we are interested in those spaces where learners both self organise their learning (not unusual) and then negotiate their learning goals, both communally and with formal institutions (very unusual). To do this we need to both examine the range of learning from formal education with formal structures and outcomes across various learning modes, including learning as play, and then look at how formal learning can engage with this “cumulative learning continuum”. This means investigating learning process, learning outcomes and validation and addressing two key blockages in the possible link between informal and formal learning; descriptions of informal and formal learning and their validation.


Mapping Formal, Non-formal and Informal Learning


The University of Leeds report on Non-formal learning (Colley 2002) looked at these three modes of learning, formal, non-formal and informal, and argued that what is often described as “informal” learning is better described as non-formal learning. However in their updated and more analytical report in 2004 Colley et al argued that both formality and informality are part of all learning. They identified several ways forward including a research agenda “into learning as social practice, addressing attributes of in/formality in relation to learning contexts, in a range of learning situations”, prefiguring the concerns discussed here.


Since then Alan Rogers has proposed a “new paradigm” - "Looking again at non-formal and informal education" (Rogers 2004) which addresses the definitional problem surrounding informal learning and incidental learning by distinguishing between participatory education and informal learning. This usefully adds the issue of participation to the “cumulative learning continuum”, bringing ideas such as the co-creation of learning into the mix we are looking at (and posing the implicit question of whether education is what is done to people).


Additionally as part of work done by the Becta Community Programmes Team for the DfES and NOF relating to how people learn in technology-rich UK online centres they defined non-formal learning as “structured learning opportunities without formal learning outcomes” (Cook and Smith 2004). This can often be seen as describing learning in the cultural sector; the work done by the UKOLN in defining learning in Museums Libraries and Galleries has often taken this approach (Shabajee 2002), exemplified in many NOF-DIGI resources now available online through EnrichUK (www.enrichuk.net) For complex historical reasons to do with social practice (alternative views of learning and education)  much good work has been done in the UK in developing and recognising informal and non-formal learning, usually with a basis in Adult or Community Education and comes from the many differences concerning the ethos, process and outcomes of learning.


So we can see that theories of learning are concerned with identifying and mapping a range of informal and participatory learning processes into the educational mix


Validating Formal, Non-Formal and Informal Learning


At the same time educational policy is examining ways in which non-formal learning can be validated. The EU has a requirement that formal, non-formal and informal learning need to be integrated by 2010 and whilst this won’t happen fully by then it is interesting to see that the EU, in the interests of transparency and trans-national co-operation are encouraging these developments. The EU have in fact identified four key principles to validation (Individual Entitlement, Stakeholder Obligations, Confidence and Trust and finally Credibility and Legitimacy). From this we can extract the key phrase “Stakeholders, should establish, in accordance with their rights, responsibilities and competences, systems and approaches for the identification and validation of non-formal and informal learning.” So some time after 2010 all EU governments including the UK will have to investigate how to validate informal and non-formal learning. Crucially though it means that this process is seen as formal institutions developing validation mechanisms for non-formal and informal learning which they tend to do on their terms.


The EU has also identified the “key competences necessary for living and working in a modern innovation-oriented society”. These include “entrepreneurial skills in the wider sense, as well as literacy, scientific and mathematical competence, languages, learning-to-learn skills and social and cultural competences … and digital literacy”. Calling for “the modernisation and restructuring of education systems so that they provide these key competences,” (EU 2006) the EU view, which ultimately becomes UK education policy, is that we need a broader more innovative approach to education driven by new competences and especially digital literacy (“the sine qua non”). These are yet to be fully defined.


Reconceptualising the link between institutions and learning


In response to the Open Learn presentation on LGC that this article is based on, John Seely-Brown said: “You should consider the dialectic between the institution and learning” (also implying that if we make the learning fun it will elicit greater engagement in learning). I think what he is getting at is that we need a new paradigm for education in the 21st Century and implicitly or explicitly it needs to be a partnership between;


a) education and its institutions

b) learning and its processes

c) teachers and their pedagogies (intervention strategies)

d) learners and their interests.


Teachers are best placed to facilitate this and learners are best placed to drive this, but politically and institutionally we have other drivers which work in other, more hierarchical, directions. The dialectic that Seely-Brown hints at is embedded in the tension between the educators need to categorise the world and the learners need to appropriate, mash up and re-invent the world (hence the many current plagiarism debates - mostly originating in bad educational design).


Developing the Adaptive Formal Institution


It is part of the LGC work to look at issues concerning institutional structures and Fred Garnett and Nigel Ecclesfield have written “Developing an Organisational Architecture of Participation” (BJET 2008) addressing how Learning Institutions can adapt to a post web 2.0 world through the participatory affordances of new technologies, moving towards more-mature behaviour,  and the more networked character of organisations that can be developed using Public Value techniques; “adaptive institution working in collaborative networks”.


So we need more adaptive institutions and flexible learning processes complemented by revised pedagogic techniques in creating learning situations harnessed to the consistent drive of young people to re-create the future; educational design in the broadest sense. 


So we need to empower learners as explorers and reposition teachers as cosmologically astute mentors sifting through learner experimentation and negotiating new routes to accreditation in adaptive institutions. This is not dissimilar to processes pioneered in certain Arts Schools in the 60’s by people like Richard Hamilton at Newcastle and Rita Donagh at Reading who re-positioned education in the creation of learning situations that challenged students (Bracewell 2007).


Re-conceptualising the relationship between informal learning and formal education


So in re-conceptualising “the relationship between informal learning and formal education” we have seen that;


a) it isn’t useful to talk of a simple learning continuum from formal to informal learning

b) formality and informality in learning occur in all learning contexts

c) the participatory dimension of learning also needs to be accounted for

d) politically this relationship is constructed as formal institutions validating formal and non-formal learning

e) the UK has a long tradition of non-formal learning embodying different practices, ethos and purpose

f) we need adaptive formal institutions working through collaborative networks to facilitate this

g) education, learning, teachers and learners need new roles exemplifying this.

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