Formal Vs. Informal Learning

I’m applying for a job that is out of my educational range. Sure, this is something lots of people do all the time – where they have the experience but not the education credentials to back up the informal, on-the-job training that people have – or the experience. I’ve often wondered about formal education, whether it’s worth it, and I always assume it will be worth it. But maybe it’s not. I look at my experience, and comparing that to the job description, I’m confident I can do the job and excel in it. I have the skills and I have the passion to do it well. The thing that will hang me up is the lack of a Master’s. It’s not that I can’t do the education – every indication is that I can, my marks are high and feedback from my professors have been positive. The thing that holds me back is I just don’t have the money. At close to $700 for a half credit course, I’m about $5000 away from completing my Bachelor’s of Education. Even doing prior learning assessments would only reduce my courses required by one or two half credits. I’ve looked at the PLA’s as well, and in many cases, the theory required from these PLA’s bear no resemblance to the practical application of that skill.

Especially with online skills like HTML and the myriad of programming languages, most practitioners of web skills are self-taught or have learned on the job, a picture perfect definition of informal learning. How should we credit these people? Do we examine the projects they’ve worked on, or maybe give them a test to assess their skills? I lean towards the project based nature of assessment – I feel it’s closer to a real assessment of what someone can do. The other piece is that there’s such an open community of people out there sharing their work, is there any way to assess the individual with something as ubiquitous as HTML? Never mind the leaps and bounds that tools have taken since 2000, where it requires no memorization of tags, just the ability to select the appropriate tool from a list. Does that make the person less qualified than someone who has taken the time to go to class and learn tags? Factor this in further, most curriculum is behind the times, I know the stuff I learned in school in 2001/2 for HTML was already a couple years behind (it was equivalent to the courses in HTML I had taken at the University of Texas in 1997, which really didn’t tell me more than what I had taught myself already from resources on the web). Fast forward 9 years, and hopefully that curriculum has been updated and advanced, but there is no guarantee that the curriculum now looks at separation of content and design. In many ways informal learning has been superior to formal learning, especially so in this realm. I’d suspect that very very few institutions are thinking about HTML5, but there are already several books, many websites and untold numbers of resources coming out of the blogs around the Internet. Maybe formal education will be a curated process (much like George Siemens guessed at) where the instructor assembles the online resources and orders them so that they make logical sense, but doesn’t stand at the front of the class. Thank goodness, because I think it’s time for a change.

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