The Online Teacher Resource
Surveying Informal and Extreme Forms of Learning
June 18th, 2012
By Curt Bonk, Indiana University, School of Education
I am sure you have heard of extreme sports and perhaps the extreme games. On the Web, you can find information about extreme music, extreme programming, extreme pizza, and even extreme couponing. But have you heard about extreme learning? Yes, extreme learning. It is the cousin or younger sibling of informal learning and grandchild of nontraditional education. Most certainly, you have heard of informal learning. And I am sure that you have engaged in it many times each hour of the day. In fact, my friend, Jay Cross, estimates that we rely on informal learning around 80 percent or more of the time that we learn.
Not convinced? Well, you likely have used Wikipedia to learn more about a particular event in history or some local or distant place your plan to travel to. Perhaps even today! A few minutes later, you might be watching a movie or the news and suddenly call up Wikipedia to answer a trivia question about a movie celebrity or politician. Later in the day, you might watch a YouTube video to learn how to fix a broken watch or take care of a mobile phone that got wet. And, after that, then you might share cooking recipes or professional writing ideas in a group in Ning, Google Groups, or Facebook. These are all informal learning pursuits that are enhanced by Web-based technology. Reading this particular blog post of mine in TeAchnology or the comments and responses to it is yet another common form of informal learning today.
In the twenty-first century, there are myriad new and emerging technologies to assist in informal learning. At times, such activities stretch to the far edges of the planet and possibilities for human learning. While all this is happening, education is increasingly becoming free and open. Unfortunately, most people still think that learning can only take place in a physical school or university building. Walled classroom spaces are deemed the only vehicles for learning. In the past, educators mainly relied on such place-based and time-based learning. Some call this eyeball-to-eyeball and earpan-to-earpan learning. Others simply refer to it as face-to-face learning. Whatever the term used, it does not encapsulate all the possibilities for human learning that are now possible.
Clearly, informal learning tools, resources, and networks are exploding online. Open educational resources and massive open online courses (MOOCs) with thousands of students have been making the headlines in CNN, the New York Times, and myriad other media outlets this past spring and now into the summer. Last summer I helped Ray Schroeder from the University of Illinois at Springfield with a course that enrolled 2,700 people who were interested in online learning today and tomorrow.
Building on that experience, in May 2012, I taught a course using CourseSites by Blackboard with over 4,000 enrolled participants from across the planet. Those who completed the course got a badge from Blackboard. That course, Instructional Strategies and Technology Tools for Online Success, was focused on how to teach online. While only 200 to 500 of the 4,000 enrolled came to my weekly synchronous sessions in the MOOC, many relied on asynchronous resources and self-paced forms of learning. I thoroughly enjoyed it. People came from all over the world to learn something. And even though it has officially ended, it remains freely available to anyone who wants to explore it and still get a badge. To find out more, you might read the interview I did with the director of CourseSites, Jarl Jonas, that I just posted in my TravelinEdMan blog.
Thousands of students in one course? Yes! This was a prime example of what my research team and I in the Instructional Systems Technology (IST) department at Indiana University are calling “Extreme Learning”. The Extreme Learning research project is documenting how people learn or teach online or with technology in nontraditional or unusual ways. We are interested in how education takes place in casual informal situations as well as how formal learning stretches beyond schools and universities to more extreme learning environments such as that taking place on trains, planes, mountain tops, boats, and war zones. Extreme learning is a new concept that stretches ideas or perspectives about when, how, where, and with whom learning takes place. As such, it is vital to begin to document and understand its potential.
The research project is titled, “Collecting Stories of Extreme or Informal Learning.” As such, this study explores how people learn (and teach) with technology in unique and nontraditional ways. We want to uncover empowerment moments wherein one has had their life changed via some type of learning technology. There are six main areas or types of learning that we are exploring. For instance, we are studying online language learning like that found in Babbel, ChinesePod, and BBC Languages. As most Web natives are aware, the vehicles for online language learning are exploding. In addition, we are studying the use of shared online video like TED talks, Big Think, the Khan Academy, and TeacherTube, virtual education like the Florida Virtual School and the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, and global education and social change like ePals, iEARN, iCivics, and Seeds of Empowerment. We are also looking at adventure and environmental education such as Earthducation, the Nautilus Live, the Polar Husky project, and Impossible2Possible. Finally, we are interested in learning from learner portals and open educational resources such as MIT OpenCourseWare, the Encyclopedia of Life, the Complete Works of William Shakespeare, Curriki, MERLOT, and, of course, TeAchnology.
We have designed a Web-based survey to collect this information. We would love to have survey participants (both teachers and students) who are users of TeAchnology and similar online portals and learning resources. If interested in this research, please click on the link here now. Individuals must be at least 13 years old to participate.
The Extreme and Informal Learning Survey – Open Education and Learning Portals
After clicking on the above link and agreeing to our informed consent form, participants will complete 26 survey questions. Next, you will be asked if you want to answer a series of open-ended items. If you answer “no,” the system will take you to the end of the survey for a few final quick questions.
Across this research, we hope to find out more about how online technology can motivate someone to learn outside of traditional educational settings. As indicated, participation will mainly entail responding to a set of online survey questions. A few of the survey respondents will be asked to participate in follow-up online interviews and focus group discussions. Our goal is to collect stories of how informal and extreme forms of online learning significantly impact or change someone’s life. Such stories might offer inspiration to other people. I am sure that users of TeAchnology have many interesting stories and life experiences to share. Here is a reminder of that survey link.
Thanks so much for any support you might lend to our research project.
Professor Curtis J. Bonk, Ph.D., Department of Instructional Systems Technology, Indiana University (http://mypage.iu.edu/~cjbonk/; cjbonk at Indiana dot edu)
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