Connected Pro-D

What is our role in non-formal learning?

Posted in ECI 831 by tchcruiser on September 27, 2009

Knowing that we work within very formal learning spaces does not mean that we also do not participate in non-formal learning. What I think is very important is to model all the ways that we are learning in non-formal situations (technology enahnced or otherwise) when we talk about what we do with our students. It is critical that we show them our RSS readers and talk about how they work (as I know no students of mine who ever used this tool…), show them our blog space and talk about how we use it to share ideas and opinions, mention participation in book clubs with friends where we read books and share our thoughts about them in a social setting rather than a highly formalized study that a classroom would conduct around a book. I would also bring in and show them ideas about how to learn within their community – neighborhood centres, churches, libraries – they all have learning opportunities. It is also a chance to talk about networking and chit chatting strategies with people when they are out and about in the world. These are skills that need practice, but often turn up into surprising bits of connections… people you meet and talk to when in line at the store when you mention something about what they are reading or buying, conversations with people beside you on an airplane, bus or restaurant counter around topics that come up or extending conversations when they meet people at family functions or commmunity events.

What I have found is that the opportunities and reasons to want to venture into non-formal learning comes after contact with people in more formal settings – once the contact is made, there then becomes reasons or ideas on how to follow up and click into their extended circles of knowledge, expertise and aquaintence – if only from the periphery at first. Much like the idea of “loafing” or “lurking” that came up in the back channel last week. Then, you can find ways to contribute to the teaching and learning going on in that particluar sphere for as long as you need or want it.

I guess I see this and have expereinced it myself with teacher PD… often it starts as a school division imposed initiative (the formal learning structure) where you all are in the same place becuase somone has asked you to be there, not necessarily because you initiated it. Then…. you get to talking to a few in the room, as well as some others who may not have been there, or maybe are in another division but also working on the same things, and you decide that there are bits there that you want to work more closely with, but in your own way and in your contexts. You decide to keep in touch via email, sharing files, assessment tools, lesson plans, exemplars with each other. Then…. you decide that you want to learn more about your topic and have bought in enough that you are willing to meet on a weekend or evening so that you have more time together to talk about what you have learned and share your resources (or you schedule a synchronous session online where you can file share, talk, and work together in real time).  What started out as a formal learning experience, evolved into a non-formal learning experience.

I think also though that the formal and informal weave in and out of each other, depending on who has the skills and how they can be accesses. I think that we dip into more formal learning spaces from time to time becuase that ends up being the most effecient, or accessible, means of learning what we are wanting to learn, at the time we are ready to learn it…or it is the kind of learning that is going to be “recognized” as valuable by others higher in our power structures.  I think students need to see that this is likley going to be the case for them throughout their livesw- just  becuase they graduate does not mean they are completely done with formal schooling…. they may wade into formal pools for work or recreation (I am thinking things like coaching certification and similar programs) but primarily, their learning spaces will be more non-formal as they get older.

With that being said, I would like to see school divisions and our own profession recognize more informal/non-formal learning experiences as equally valid forms of Professional Development – depending on what we think we need to access and be a part of in order to learn more about what interests and challenges us. I think there is much to be gained by shifting time, money and resources into different professional development models – where perhaps time and money we would have once spent on registrations, travel and accomodations to attend a 2 day workshop could instead be spent on release time for teachers to get together to work together, share materials and resources and teach and learn from each other if that is what is more pressing and meaningful for their context at that time.

Does anyone else feel the same way?

3 Responses to 'What is our role in non-formal learning?'

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  1. courosa said,

    So, re: your last paragragh “I would like to see school divisions and our own profession recognize more informal/non-formal learning experiences as equally valid forms of Professional Development” … what about going further. Beyond recognition, would you agree that districts should encourage or foster informal learning experiences of teachers? And if so, how could they go about doing that? How would such experiences co-exist with or even replace standard PD practices? Thoughts on that?

  2. starkg said,

    I agree with you about divisions recognizing more informal/non-formal learning experiences. I have always fought for more “job-alike” sessions where teachers of similar subjects can get together and talk about what “works” for them and get help for problems they may be facing – sometimes a different perspective or experience makes all the difference. Why can’t some of the PD sessions be devoted just to teachers learning from each other – we are the “experts” on our classrooms – why do we need to bring in others from outside when the knowledge may be right beneath our feet?

  3. tchcruiser said,

    I KNOW that teachers are engaged in informal and non-formal learning communities all the time- and usually of their own choosing. Sometimes they grow out of a mandated PLC initiative or school-division sponsored connection, other times it is through special subject councils, or attendance at a conference that links people of similar interests, other times it is simply a more personal connection – almost like a blind date where mutual friends connect you together because they know they might have something you need.

    I think school divisions and building administrators could take steps towards accepting the informal and non-formal ways of working within a learning community in several ways:

    1. The first would be to encourage “creative” PD, and if they have to couch it in the context of cost saving measures that still allow colleagues to connect with each other, share ideas, resources and knowledge, but not have to travel and be out of the classroom, then this should be encouraged – and will no doubt be taken more seriously in this time of fiscal restraint and budget cutting.

    I can think of many smaller schools where there simply is not the money to travel, and yet the same learning (and many would argue, MORE and RICHER learning can take place by attending virtually the same event… or sharing and learning what those who were at the conference were talking about in the backchannels with all those who could not attend. This may need to be modeled and demonstrated by the intrepid few who are willing to step out of the box – at least at the beginning and show others how they intentionally set themselves up and planned for this learning within the informal space, and what they learned because they put themselves in this space. This might answer who do we look to to help lead in this change…. and it won’t be the senior administration, but rather the teachers on the front lines who are doing it anyway, alongside the formal PD imposed and expected from their school divisions, who will have the confidence to say how meaningful and powerful this kind of learning community is.

    2. Re-imagine and re-define what a PLC is. Professional Learning Communities do not have top exist only in a face to face context. Professionals can and do meet in virtual space and time, to talk about deeply, share tried and true materials and build relationships with their classroom communities in meaningful ways. This needs to be explored more, I think. Harnessing human intellect, ideas and resources without tacking on 2-3 hours of driving, sleeping in beds that are not your own…. you could spend a few more hours actually “working” for the greater good from the comfort of your own home or familiar office or school computer.

    3. Build capacity and encourage innovation in your school staff by allowing those that are capable and have embraced the possibility to run with it. Challenge their thinking, stretch their skills, ask hard questions as they work through the process of proving to you, them and their colleagues that what they are doing already in their own time deserves to be recognized as valued PD. Ask them to report to others on staff what they are finding and who they are learning it from and how – encourage mentorship and leadership from them to take others under their wing and build up confidence and skills in others. It does take some vision and courage on the part of building administrators to support it from the ground up… and what school division level administrator does not want to be associated with powerful, meaningful, and innovative practice?

    I would like to hear how administrators feel about this – is it doable? How much pressure is there to maintain status quo – or is there freedom to build capacity and innovate and model from creative PD options that are low on budget, but high on impact to professional practice?

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