Friday, February 26, 2010

How to define Networked Learning for Professionals?

While writing on an article for the Alt-C conference, I stumbled across a problem that I keep having when I start writing, namely the problem of clearly defining and delimiting what it is that I'm dealing with on a day-to-day basis at CELSTEC.
As member of the research programme on Learning Networks for Professionals, I am researching technologies to support learning networks and trying to apply some of the ideas and concepts - developed within the programme - within internal and external projects. For a recent publication coming out of our research programme, I 'd like to refer to this recent book (Available at Springer - and Google Books).

Now why do I keep having this problem? It might be because (a) we're dealing with an area that is rapidly developing, and hard to pin down, (b) an area that is on the crossroads between a number of traditional definitions, or (c) my own thoughts are not yet clear enough to explain clearly to my wife or kids what it is that keeps me at the computer for days on end.

Within the research programme I am not the only one facing this issue of defining and limiting our concepts, as witnessed by the discussions in this Cloudscape. In my search for clear definitions to start the paper with, I came across two interesting online thesauri concerning Learning for Professionals, which I would like to share.
  • The first one is the European Training Thesaurus, developed and maintained by CEDEFOP, the European centre for the development of vocational training. The number of items in this thesaurus is rather limited, and I was unable to find a good match for the work that we're doing.
  • The second one I found rather more useful, the VOCED - Thesaurus. It is part of VOCED, a free research database for technical and vocational education and training, produced in Australia by the NCVER, and supported by UNESCO-UNEVOC.
Below, I want to just list some of the descriptors from the VOCED Thesaurus that are relevant for my work.
  • Learning: The process of acquiring knowledge attitudes or skills from study, instruction or experience.
  • Education: is mentioned as a related term, but not defined. Interestingly, one can find the following terms among the list of narrower terms. At CELSTEC, we prefer to use the terms Formal learning, Informal Learning, and Nonformal Learning, but VOCED uses the following terms.
    • Formal education: not further defined
    • Informal education: The unorganised process whereby everyone acquires knowledge skills or attitudes through experience and contact with others.
    • Nonformal education: Organised and systematic learning activity often directly associated with work provided outside the formal education system.

  • Lifelong learning: Process of acquiring knowledge or skills throughout life via education, training, work and general life experiences.
  • Continuing education: A comprehensive term referring to all forms and types of education pursued by those who have left formal education at any point and who entered employment and/or assumed adult responsibilities.
    • Continuing professional education: Education of adults in professional fields for occupational updating and improvement; usually consists of short-term intensive specialised learning experiences often categorised by general field of specialisation.
    • Continuing vocational education: not further defined, but is related to Vocational education: Vocational training given in primary or secondary schools or in higher educational institutions designed to develop occupational skills.
    • Continuing vocational training: Further vocational training undertaken by those who have already completed basic or initial training in order to supplement acquired knowledge or skills.

  • Workplace learning: Process of learning through experience at the workplace both formally and informally and through different forms of working arrangements - teams one-to-one. Also the creation of a learning environment in the workplace.
  • Work based learning: Learning that takes place within the work environment using tasks/jobs for instruction and practical purposes. It may be structured as a formal session (see On-the-job training: Training within the enterprise given at the work station and using jobs of commercial value for instruction and practice purposes.) or be an information learning situation. Instructional programs that deliberately use the workplace as a site for student learning. These are formal structured programs organised by instructional staff employers and sometimes other groups to link learning in the workplace to students' formal learning experiences. They have formal instructional plans that directly relate to their career goals.
  • In-service education: Course or program designed to provide employee/staff growth in job related competencies or skills, often sponsored by employers, usually at the professional level.

  • Distance learning: Refers to learning in an environment made possible by the convergence of information and communication network technology where the learner may choose from a greater number of convenient learning opportunities irrespective of geographical location to meet their learning needs at any given time.
  • Distance education: A mode of education in which students enrolled in a course do not attend the institution but study off campus and may submit assignments by mail or email.

  • Learning community: A (geographical) community where individuals work in partnership with education, business and community to address the learning needs of the whole community, using learning as a means towards social cohesion and development, recognising the value of learning for all and supporting lifelong learning.

  • Online learning: Interactive process in which a computer and connection to the Internet are used to present instructional material enable communication between student and coordinator monitor learning and allow individual learner needs to be supported.
What we are trying to do in projects such as Biebkracht and the Library School, has aspects of all the terms listed above. Our goal is to design, develop and implement a collaborative professional learning network that is a blend of online and offline activities, artefacts (learning resources) and people, similar to the Rob Jacobs' Professional Networked Learning Collaborative.