A Study of Informal Learning in ICT Enabled Environment
December 2009

A Study of Informal Learning in ICT Enabled Environment

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M. A. Kaleelur Rahuman, Gihan N. Wikramanayake and K.P. Hewagamage


 

This paper presents a framework as a foundation for facilitating informal learning in an on line learning environment. This environment is created by exploiting Information and Communication Technology innovations such as web 2.0 paradigms and the effective and efficient use of an open source VLE – Moodle that has number of sophisticated features for a Learning Management System (LMS). This framework is built based on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) as the learning gateway and on the use of a number of Rich Interactive Learning Objects (RILOs) that are tailored to provide three important levels of learning, namely: one way information flow, interactivity and collaboration. RILOs are used to achieve expected learning outcomes of a certain life long informal learning domain.

Contemporary studies have empha-sised that the high possibilities of achieving better performance and intended learning outcomes is through effective use of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs). VLEs facilitate online Teaching Learning Activities (TLA) for formal learning domains within a Managed Learning Environment (MLE).  Many tertiary level educational institutions already use different VLE for formal learning of thousands of students. In addition, VLE can also be used for Informal Learning domains.

Formal & Informal Learning

Formal education occurs when a teacher has the authority to determine that people designated as requiring know-ledge effectively learn a curriculum taken from a pre-established body of knowledge either in the form of age-graded school systems or elders initiating youths into traditional bodies of knowledge.

Informal learning is a combination of improvised, semi-structured, unplanned, just-in-time learning efforts that occurs in a variety of places, such as home, at work, and through daily interactions with peers and shared relationships among members of society. The informal learning is not only more common but also more effective than formal learning. Informal learning is also considered as workplace learning or on job training/ experience. According to a study by ASTD, two out of three workers say that everything they need to know was learned on the job, rather than in the classrooms. The workplace is the most frequently traveled avenue to education and training for most employed persons.

Learning Paradigm Shift

The learning paradigm is shifted from instructor centric face to face class room learning environment or traditional learning to some media or machine mediated learning or otherwise Internet mediated web based learning environment with the innovative ICT revolution. This revolutionary learning method using media, machine, Internet and web is called on line learning or on line learning environment and it is much more learner centric.

VLE: A management system for online learning which is used to facilitate and manage teaching learning activities in online learning environment or virtual learning via the web is called Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) or Learning Management System (LMS). A VLE will normally work over the Internet and provide a collection of tools such as those for teaching learning activities, assessment, communication, uploading of content, return of students’ work, peer assessment, administration of student groups, collecting and organizing student grades, questionnaires, tracking tools, etc. New features in these systems include wikis, blogs, RSS and 3D virtual learning spaces.

ICT Innovations in Education

The emerging ICT innovations such as Web 2.0 is also integrated with VLE to maximise the expected results through utilization of ICT innovations for education. Web 2.0 is not just adding a new user interface onto an existing web page. It is about attracting users and changing entire functions, concept, delivery mechanism, support etc. Web 2.0 enhanced with steady network effects and efficient databases so that more people interact with them and use them to communicate with peers effectively. They are smart applications that driven by user experiences and feedbacks. All these contribute towards enhance online learning.

Learning Objects

The very basic building block of an online learning environment is a single learning object that is carefully designed to meet a particular intended learning outcome of a considered curriculum or a specific problem.  Now a days number of learning objects are widely available over the Internet as objects in the format of texts, graphics, animations, audio clips, video clips and so on.

Learners & Learning Domains

Sample learners are selected carefully. Different learners with different learning styles are involved in the study – from limited knowledgeable primary school children to knowledgeable, communicable and controllable adult learners. This learner sample is chosen from various disciplines such as public service, private sector and civil society and from various part of the country, if need international learners from abroad will be considered.

Learning domains considering the national interest of rapid adaption and comprehensive use of ICT innovation in education and coop up with according to the global growth of the technology changes as well as considering the demand of the contemporary knowledge and skills area which can help the development of the country, hence the VLE is set up (but not limited to) for four following knowledge area or learning domains for OLPC, e-Governance, business process outsourcing and human rights etc. The informal learning domains are maintained precisely by facilitating better learning experience.

Existing Learning Objects & Different Learning Theories

The existing learning objects are limited to cater a particular level of learning experience rather than giving mixed levels of learning experience so that to meet utmost intended learning outcomes. In this context we consider three different learning levels – information flow, interactivity and social presence coincide with three different learning theories. These learning levels are mapping with the three way of learning out of four major ways of learning transmission, acquisition, accretion and emergence as described below.

  1. Transmission is the process by which information; knowledge, ideas and skills are taught to others through purposeful, conscious telling, demonstration, and guidance. Over the course of a lifetime, this method accounts for only about 10% of learning. Unfortunately, this is the most traditional and, currently, the mostly predominate method of instruction.
  2. Acquisition is the conscious choice to learn. Material in this category is relevant to the learner. This method includes exploring, experimenting, self-instruction, inquiry, and general curiosity. Currently, acquisition accounts for about 20% of what we learn.
  3. Accretion is the gradual, often subconscious or subliminal, process by which we learn things like language, culture, habits, prejudices, and social rules and behaviors. We are usually unaware that the processes involved in accretion are taking place, but this method accounts for about 70% of what we know.
  4. Emergence is the result of patterning, structuring and the construction of new ideas and meanings that did not exist before, but which emerges from the brain through thoughtful reflection, insight and creative expression or group interactions. This form of learning accounts for the internal capacities of synthesis, creativity, intuition,  wisdom, and problem-solving. This method is greatly dependent on the allocation of time, and opportunities to reflect and construct new knowledge. This method plays an important role in inspiration and originality. In the context of current educational practices, we learn only 1-2% by this method.

Accretion is gradual process what the learner unaware the learning occurs with the life time of the learner even though it accounts a considerable amount of learning. It is not included in the study since it cannot be easily presented in online learning environment. The other three ways of learning Transmission, Acquisition and Emergence are mapped with the three learning levels described bellow respectively.

Level 1 Learning: One way information flow

Learning objects of the type of texts, graphics, animations, audio clips, video clips facilitate one way information flow from the machine to the learner and it is mapping with the way of learning transmission. It plays a role of creating mental model of a certain piece of information in the brain based on the cognitive learning theory (Siemens, 2004). Examples for text based learning materials are http://opentraining.unesco-ci.org and www.wikipedia.org for video clips www.youtube.com etc.

Level 2 Learning: Interactivity

In the online learning environment context, the greater challenge is, the man is replaced with the machine and media. It mean that an instructor himself teach the matter and interact with the learners on different teaching learning activities in the traditional teaching method, is to be replaced by the media and machine which can be acted as an instructor. It is mapping with the way of learning Acquisition. In this approach, the interactivity between the learner and the machine plays a major role of guiding the learners by learner controllable interactive elements with feedbacks and communications so that to construct their own idea of the given information that is based on the constructivism learning theory. Examples for interactive learning materials are guided animations and activities and also quizzes with in time feedback.

Level 3 Learning: Social Presence

Further considering the online learning environment, peer to peer learning and to share the relationships and ideas among members of the society, collaboration and social presence are identified as another most important factor. It is mapping with the way of learning emergence. It plays an important role to create a new collective idea of the information shared based on social constructivism learning theory.  Examples for collaborative learning elements are forum, blogs and social networks etc.

Rich Interactive Learning Object

These identified obstacles in the machine mediated virtual informal learning environment can be hurdled by the use of learning objects which facilitate the whole identified requirements above. These factors lead and motivate us to design a single learning object with blends of learning experience of three learning levels.

Therefore, a need is aroused for digital learning objects with two way information flow, excellent interactivity and social presence so that to maximize the intended learning outcomes.  Hence the Rich Interactive Learning Object (RILO) is proposed and it is defined as – Rich Interactive Learning Object is a simple, easy to handle, informative, more interactive and collaborative light weighted learning object which is used to meet different levels of learning outcome of a particular learning domain.

As shown in figure 1, number of courses can be facilitated in a single VLE. Informal Learning Gateway is one of them and this course has a course page consisting of an introduction part “General Information, FAQ & Guidance” and it has a number of RILOs according to the learning domains.

Results

An open source VLE – Moodle instance is established make available for specific users. A number of RILOs are used to achieve intended learning outcomes for selected applicable life long informal learning domains from different disciplines. The optimum use of ICT innovations are considered to cater better learning experience. New set of learners are trained with soft skills and are involved with the system to learn.

Conclusion

A virtual learning environment to facilitate informal learning for different learning domains is created to initiate informal learning gateway. Rich Interactive Learning Objects is introduced to facilitate different informal learning levels through the use of modern ICT innovations and implementation in education.  This will no doubt enhance the quality of life of the learners towards a better knowledge and skills community

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