Last year I took part in The Future of Learning In A Networked World (FLNW 2006) conference. It was really outstanding event.
Since then I have been in touch with almost all the participants. This is not common with conferences. In most of the cases you go there, talk your talk, have dinner with some people and never contact them or hear about them again. After going to the same conference for five years you start the conversation with the other people: “I think we have met somewhere before, could it be last year in this conference”. The FLNW 2006 was very different and it looks that it will be very different this year, too.
The The Future of Learning In A Networked World 2008 conference is a social inclusion experiment. There is a group of people who will gather together in Thailand (I am not, I am in Bogota), but most of the events will take place online. Everybody is welcome. The participants will come from all the continents to discuss about whatever theme related to the future of learning in a networked world. Everybody is free to propose a theme.
While Skype-chating with Alex Hayes – one of the main organizers of the FLNW 2008 – I decided what I want to talk. I want to talk about “networked learning”, “informal learning”, “non-formal learning”, “networks” and “groups”.
Networked learning is a term widely used in online discussion about teaching and learning. According to Wikipedia article, as it is in December 19, “networked learning” “is a personal process of developing and maintaining connections with people and information via the Internet” (Networked learning. 2007, September 26. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 02:53, December 19, 2007)
Considering networked learning mainly as learning taking place on internet is very limiting. It may also lead us not to see the real potential and character of “networks” in learning. If we’ll see networks as a more general term, it may also enrich our understanding of the term “networked learning”.</
The Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines “network” at first as a technical infrastructure: “fabric or structure of cords or wires”, “a system of lines or channels resembling a network” and “a group of radio or television stations”. The last definition of a network is related to people: “a usually informally interconnected group or association of persons (as friends or professional colleagues)”.
When talking about learning we should, first of all, pay attention to people, their social networks and groups they are involved in and working with.
We learn all the time: when awake and when sleeping. Informal learning means learning that is taking place in every day life situation when we are interacting with the outside world or with our own inside world. Most of the learning is informal and purely accidental and random.
In a human brain there are about 100.000.000.000 neurons with about 100.000.000.000.000 connections. New connections are made all the time and old are called off. Human brain is very plastic and in a continuous change. Our informal learning experiences are shaping our brains.
Can we “fight” against the power or “informal learning”? We can. and people always have been fighting against it. The guidance of “informal learning” takes place in a socialization process where earlier generations are transforming for younger generations their culture and how to live within it. In a “cultural informal learning” we learn language and symbols mediating our interaction, the norms, attitudes, values, motives and social roles.
The cultural informal learning does not stop to the youth. It continues when we meet and integrate with new cultures and sub-cultures. At some point of our life we may be more connected to the criminal sub-culture and later to the culture of internet dilettantes. We are plastic.
Networked learning can also be non-formal. Non-formal means that it is informal but with objectives. If a group of criminals are organizing a discussion group in a bar to share ideas about latest burglary techniques they are having a non-formal learning session. It is informal but with an objective. When internet dilettantes are getting together in Thailand and online to talk about networked learning it is organized because they have recognized a need to have non-formal learning experience about the topic.
These events are build out from networks but organized in form of groups. This brings light to the differences between networks and groups. Networks are “usually informally interconnected group or association of persons” whereas “group” is “a number of individuals assembled together or having some unifying relationship”. The assembling together and unifying relationship comes from the shared objectives.
So, what is “networked learning”? Is it informal, non-formal, network or group learning?
I would like to see that “networked learning” is considered as non-formal or formal learning taking place in a non-hierarchical groups that are constructed from the participants’ social networks.