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Posts Tagged ‘informal

In conversations I participated in #asiaED last week, I detected some confusion about “formal” and “informal” learning.

If I talk and write about “formal learning” or “informal learning”, I am not thinking about different thought processes. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal. Instead I am thinking about formal or informal contexts for learning. These might include places, spaces, and circumstances.

Places might include the school (typically but not always formal) or the home (typically but not always informal).

Spaces might include a classroom in school (where a teacher instructs formally) or a bathroom in school (where kids share information informally). An online space like Edmodo can be used formally (e.g., teacher sets a curriculum-defined task for students) or informally (e.g., kids talk about hobbies, ask for homework help).

Places and spaces do not define formality or informality.

If Person A (teacher or student) shows Person B (another teacher or student) how to troubleshoot a technical problem while in school but not during class or professional development time, is that formal or informal? If a parent arranges home-based remedial tuition using school textbooks and worksheets, is that formal or informal?

It is the circumstances that might define formality or informality. The place and space alone do not. Learning can happen in any context. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal.

Teachers might equate formal contexts with formal learning. Teachers might also like to think that formal teaching leads to learning, but there is no guarantee of this because such teaching is not always meaningful, just-in-time, or just-for-learners.

Learning does not need a formal invitation to learn, a defined set of objectives, clearly delivered content, or even well constructed tests.

Learning happens when the learner is ready. Learners are most ready when there is a need to learn or when there is cognitive dissonance. This then affects motivation and curiosity.

Simply consider how people learn from YouTube when they are driven to learn a new dance move to show off, to play the guitar to impress someone, to try a new recipe to improve their repertoire, or to try a new gaming strategy to outwit an opponent.

A skillful and caring teacher can create this same drive in class. A group of boys exchanging tips in a school bathroom on how to bring and hide cigarettes creates the same conditions.

When I shared the tweet above in response to a question about designing “modern learning environments”, I was not being flippant. I was trying to send a message.

Focusing only on classrooms or schools so that they become “modern learning environments” is misguided practice. It might not recognize that learning happens everywhere and anywhere.

Students can and do learn while they are on public transport, waiting in a queue, or seated on a “throne” at home. They typically do this with a smartphone in their hands.

Google knows how important mobile access and resources are so much so that it is changing search returns to favour mobile-enabled sites. Do schools recognize the importance of mobile access and contexts? Or are schools still concerned about the physical classroom instead of enabling learning with mobile devices?

School authorities and vendors can do all they can to make schools and classrooms safe for learning and to simulate “informal” spaces, and they should for the good of learners and learning. But they should not do this under the guise of the false dichotomy of formal or informal learning.

I would rather time and resources be spent helping teachers reconnect with what learning is like and how learning takes place than creating “special rooms” for teaching. Learning is learning; it is neither formal nor informal.


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This is the fifth and final part of my series on informal and emergent learning with Minecraft.

It is not obvious in the video, but writing with Minecraft is not limited to preparing signs for others in the virtual world or messaging collaborators.

Outside that system are Minecraft wikis, blogs, discussion groups, Google+ circles, and other communities that write about Minecraft. Learners have rich opportunities to mine and create the resources here.


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In this 3.5 minute video, my son and I illustrate how Minecraft might be used to practice arithmetic and put a plan to action.

This video is probably the shortest in our series so far on informal learning with Minecraft. But I think the exchanges of when I teach him and when he teaches me is the most obvious in this video.

Viewers might note that my view of Minecraft sports a different look. I apply the Sphax texture pack to make things look a bit less blocky.

I shot the time-lapse sequences with an iOS app called OSnap. My “camera” view of Minecraft was screencaptured with Quicktime and all videos were processed in iMovie (OS Maverick).


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Today I share another part of my series on informal and emergent learning with Minecraft. This episode focuses on opportunities for connecting and collaborating with other players.

This video is different in a few ways.

First, instead of presenting it as one continuous video, there are a total of five smaller parts (including the introduction above).

Second, this video was a combination of videos recorded and edited over a few weekends. I typically try one-take wonders because they are easier to edit. But the new version of iMovie in Mac OS Maverick is more usable than the previous version so I am flexing a little post-production muscle.

Third, this video does not include the usual CeL-Ed lead-in and lead-out video segments. This is to prevent confusion when selecting which parts to watch.

I recommend watching the videos on a desktop or laptop web browser so that you can click on hotspots. But I provide links to the video segments in the video descriptions in YouTube should you be on a more mobile device.


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In this episode, my son and I illustrate how you can start with a tiny plot of land and few resources in Skyblock in Minecraft to create whatever you can imagine.

One of the things my son wanted to do was make some money because he spent some buying resources and even got some stolen when a few unscrupulous players discovered a bug in the system.

So he created a store. At first it required close monitoring and manual exchange of money for goods. Combing the processes of observing, discovering, and tinkering, he figured how to automate the selling process.

But while he was technically adept at this, he did not know how to advertise, sell items for reasonable prices, or even ensure that the previous store did not burn down!

Yes, the store in the snippet I featured in the introduction of this series no longer exists because of an in-game fire.

So building the store and maintaining it created opportunities to learn basic entrepreneurial principles and that prevention was better than cure.


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Last Monday I provided a sneak preview of my short video series on informal and emergent learning with Minecraft. I called that part 1.

This is the actual part 1.

In this part, my son and I explore the use of coordinates for path-finding. We also talk about importance of being persistent whether in a game or in life.

I have already been asked if I script videos with my son. I do not.

I might have an idea of concepts I might want to bring up or things I hope to discuss. But I leave it to the rather messy process of emerging dialogue and the time-consuming process of video editing to present something coherent.

An adult worries about time-on-task, objectives, and measuring impact. A child just gets on with the learning, finds ways to enjoy the process, and shows off occasionally.

It is a very humbling and valuable experience to co-learn with my son and I enjoy every minute of it!


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Minecraft is often introduced to newbies as LEGO-like game. While most authors of articles touting the educational benefits of Minecraft build on that analogy, I think that does a disservice to the game and its gamers.

Minecraft is so much more than that.

The game is an opportunity for adults and teachers to become kids and learners again. It is a portal that parents can step through to learn from and with their kids.

I see why Joel Levin, the Minecraft teacher, is using it for his classes. I wish more teachers would do the same.

I wonder how many parents leverage on games like Minecraft for informal but powerful learning of content and value systems. That is why I am going to try to create a short series on this.


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