Formally Learning Informally

We have it in our power to begin the world over again. A situation, similar to the present, hath not happened since the days of Noah until now. The birth of a new world is at hand.
Thomas Paine, February 14, 1776
In reflecting over today's version of EduBloggerCon, I'm struck by how important informal learning is to the educational experience of people - regardless of age, race, and socioeconomic status. Strange that it took an EduBloggerCon to help me see it.

Nonetheless, today's didactic experience - for me - was a very good one (and it wasn't because of the "sessions"). Rather, the experiences during which I learned most involved spur-of-the-moment conversations with a number of different people on a wide variety of topics. Today, because of the formal gathering provided by the EduBloggerCon unconference, I was able to engage in meaningful conversations (for which I was extremely grateful) with a number of people, including: Michelle Baldwin, Jon Becker, Liz Davis, Vicki Davis, Kelly Dumont, Scott Floyd, Wesley Fryer, Steve Hargadon, David Jakes, Karen Janowski, Kevin Jarrett, Doug Johnson, Lee Kolbert, Julie Lindsay, Angela Maiers, Scott Merrick, Sylvia Martinez, Scot McCleod, Beth Still, Henry Thiele, Lisa Thumann, Maggie Tsai, Jeff Utecht, Joyce Valenza, Mark Wagner, David Warlick, Paul Wood, and many others.

Because of these informal learning “sessions,” I learned a lot. Were they “conversations”? Yes. But there was more to it than that. These were conversations of intense meaning because the people involved effectively served as resources uncommon to the typical day. Clearly these conversations were better than merely “shooting the breeze” because the topics discussed had particular value to those engaged. Furthermore, while similar “conversations” take place on a daily basis online (among people with similar interests but with different cultural backgrounds), because today’s conversations were held in a seemingly traditional face-to-face setting, the emotions and passions felt by conversation participants were easily conveyed.

Which brings me to my questions:
  • What will it take to provide our students daily with the kind of meaningfully rich learning experiences that typically result from informal learning?
  • Can a formally constructed informal learning environment be recreated with more than sporadic frequency?
  • How might we structure the learning environment in our schools to allow for more informal learning while teaching concepts assessed by federally imposed standardized tests?
In other words:
  • Why can’t we make informal learning an integral part of the formal learning process?
Once we do that, the learning revolution that so many crave will become a reality, essentially marking the birth of a new world of learning for students and teachers alike.

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Update: I apologize for seemingly dehumanizing the events of EduBloggerCon in this post. I wouldn't normally do so but I'm really trying to wrap my head around what it is about today's landscape that is essential to the learning processes of our students. Frankly, I see even clearer how little our students need us to feed them with information. They can get that for themselves, thank you.

Rather, students need teachers to give them what the Internet can't: love, empathy, and a physical person in the room that genuinely cares for their needs.

Original image source: Flickr user WOScholar.

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