Friday, July 13, 2007

An "Aha" Moment

I was viewing Stephen Downes vodcast titled: Web 2.0 and Your Own Learning and Development. I'm doing research on personal learning environments for a presentation of my own when Mr. Downes said something that really made me stop and think, in fact I rewound the video to listen again to what he had to say. (approximately 16:40 into the video)
The last place you want to get your information is in a formal classroom. Why? Because you are taking a class you don't need it now, you need it when you are out doing work or something like that. So what you want to do for the most part is shun formal classes and sessions in favor of informal activities. That's not to say you should never take a formal class, a formal class is great for an information dump, but if you want information finely tuned to your needs you're going to have to look to informal methods.

I have been trying to clarify in my own mind how formal training/education fits into the new world of informal learning that people such as Stephen Downes or Jay Cross have been advocating. I mean, what Mssrs. Downes and Cross have been advocating made sense to me, but I always felt that informal learning could not work without formal education. How could a person conceive what type of immediate learning is needed if they were not aware of the general scope of the issue.

Say, for example a researcher is hired by a pharmaceutical firm. Being new to the company, she has no idea how they monitor their drug trials; she may know in general how drug trials are run, but each of individual pharmaceutical company will have its own policies and procedures. Without a formal learning session where she is introduced to these policies and procedures she is left to learn on her own, which, in the pharmaceutical world can be extremely dangerous.

So she attends the formal training and receives the data dump over a course of say 3 days. In my early days of learning about instructional design I recall being told something along the line that 75% of what a learner is provided in the training session is forgotten within an hour of leaving the class if it is not immediately applied and 90% is lost within three days of the training. As I recall these figures were presented as an argument for incorporating practice sessions within the class so that the learner can apply their new knowledge.

Having been on the receiving end of training where practice was provided I can argue that the loss of the skills presented in the training occurred anyway if I did not apply them outside the classroom. (Either that or I'm just a poor student.) This is where informal learning comes into play and the responsibility of the employer to provide the informal resources for the employee to refresh in their mind what they learned.

This could be via:
  • Procedural guides published as wikis in which the end users at the very least can comment on the information so that they can recommend changes that improve the process being performed
  • Blogs that can provide them with alerts to changes in policy, government regulations, etc.
  • Chat rooms or groups where they can share information and ideas
  • Podcasts and vodcasts that discuss critical elements in their activities that they can use to recall what was presented in the information dump that was the formal training
  • Web-based simulations that allow them to fine-tune their activities.
As an instructional designer I've been worried that if informal learning takes off my job would go away, but as I see it now, even with informal learning their will still be an increased demand for content development to satisfy both the formal and informal aspects of learning.

No comments: