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.

Social Media: Trends and Implications for Learning

I was going to blog last night and didn’t end up doing that because I spent an hour, a very worthwhile hour with 150 other folks in the August session of the AACE “Conference” on Social Media: Trends and Implications for Learning.

Towards the end of the discussion veered towards the tool having no influence on what you’re teaching, rather the tool is influenced by your personal philosophy of teaching. It’s a bit of a chicken or the egg scenario – does your philosophy influence what tools you use or does the tool influence your philosophy? I tend to think that tools are neutral, until you use them. The tools you then use, and how you use them, inform others of your worldview and philosophy.

For instance, you are teaching at a distance, and have some choices as to the tools you use. Of course, this all presupposes that you have a choice.You weigh the value of a distributed set of social networking resources (twitter, google docs, blogs etc) against the value of putting everything in an LMS (D2L, Blechboard, WebCT, Moodle). On the one hand, you might want your students to have a central point of entry is convenient, useful, simple. You can give PowerPoints, additional notes, and other resources that you find in the LMS and be relatively certain that students will find them and maybe even look at them. From a pedagogical standpoint, this is more of a Behaviourist standpoint with a nuturing element. Most LMS’s model this sort of instruction – sure there’s workarounds to allow more collaborative tools, but if you want students to mark each other, you as the instructor still have to enter marks. The instructor role puts you in a role of power over students, which is not a really new concept.

By distributing learning, you allow for serendipity to drive your course content somewhat, but you can guide learning by participating in the distributed nodes wherever they exist. By choosing a less centralized mode you are revealing that you are more of a constructivist, or will to engage in constructivism at least.

The argument is that it’s pedagogy that’s driving those decisions. I tend to agree… but then the question arose “Is a teacher who uses Moodle more open than one that uses Blackboard?”  To which I responded “I suspect so, but one tool does not inform about us fully.” (If you want the full context, click the link above and zoom to the 55 minute mark, I’m Jon K.) I wanted to take a bit to expand on that, my thinking was not clear enough to say what I should’ve said – “No.” Comparing Moodle to Blackboard is like comparing Firefox to Internet Explorer. They are both LMSs and serve the same function – as a central repository of information – which implies that any other information about your course is secondary, or less useful.  Sure, one is a better tool to use than the other (politically?) and one may have features that you value over the other. They in the end serve the same purpose.

On another note, if I’m going to keep sticking my foot in this hole, I’m going to have to brush up on my McLuhan. Maybe some McGoohan too, just to put me right round the bend.

Connectivism “Paper” #1


One of the issues surrounding connectivism as a theory of learning is whether or not it is a new theory of learning. One could argue that connectivism is merely learning from those who you have networked with, which has been done since the early days of the human race. The difficult concept that the learning resides in the network (Siemens, 2008) not necessarily in the interaction between the two parties (although that can occur in a connectivist manner as well). This networked approach to learning is what I believe to be a new development and advancement from constructivism and a constructivist approach to learning.

Weaknesses of connectivism

While Siemens does debunk some initial criticisms of Connectivism in a 2007 response, he states “[a]s knowledge complexifies, patterns—not individual elements—become of greatest importance in gaining understanding.” (Siemens, 2007) One worrying aspect of the phenomenon of knowledge complexification is that there is a possibility that as knowledge becomes more complex that the patterns sought to understand knowledge will also be so complex that it renders both the pattern and knowledge unknowable. As we have seen in the case of the irrational number pi, there is no discernable pattern in the remainder. Does this mean that at some point we will reach such a similarly complex pattern of connections that we will be unable to comprehend the meaning of such a web? Certainly, this may not be concern in the near future, but as information grows at what seems an exponential rate, this may be an issue In the future.

Strengths of connectivism

One of the great strengths of connectivism is that it recognizes and highly values the context of information and that it is flexible enough to adapt or add new information as it becomes available. Downes (2006) uses the analogy of a red apple looking different under different conditions to illustrate interpretation. Downes then goes on to say “emergence is interpretation applied to connections.” So our contextual understanding of something is inherently connected to something else. Under previous learning theories context may have played a role (certainly in constructivism, much less so in a behaviourist model) but never has there been such an emphasis on context. As individuals begin to publish information on the web, I believe that understanding the context of the information being published is of utmost importance to the learner.

Personal observations

An important point to note is I have witnessed the way many people (not just younger generations who have grown up with internet access and the web) interact with information today rather than a decade ago. The immediacy and convenience of information has forced many people to rethink how they deal with information. In this process many find using the internet for information frustrating and confusing. This frustration and confusion is a sure sign that there is a shift underway. I believe that connectivism does address many of the problems in this paradigm shift.


Downes, S. (2005, December 12). An introduction to connective knowledge. Retrieved on October 3, 2008, from

Siemens, G. (2007, November 12). Connectivism: learning theory or pastime of the self-amused?. Retrieved on October 4, 2008, from

Siemens, G. (2008, September 8). What is connectivism? Retrieve on October 5, 2008, from