Demos (2007): four characteristics of informal learning

18 January 2007

The Demos report  identify groupings of young people. Those that regularly use instant messaging, text messaging and online spaces to interact with peers are classified as ‘everyday communicators’. Those that adopt new technologies and are comfortable with a wide range of technologies are known as ‘digital pioneers’. I have no problem with the latter although I wonder whether the first is a causal or effectual label. Are they ‘everyday communicators’ because the technology enables them to communicate everyday? Or are they using the technology for communication because communicate is what they do – with or without technology?

In other words  what is the driver – their need for communication or their ‘digital native’ ability to use technology?

Taking the digital pioneers, the report then identifies four characteristics of their informal learning: self-motivation ownership, purpose and peer-to-peer communication. The last  being common to the other group, who are not identified as pioneers.

Taking out of context of the report these are fairly unremarkable. We learn best when we are self motivated, take ownership and have a purpose. Maybe the difference here is in the ownership. Digital pioneers take ownership of the technology perhaps. They go beyond the everyday use, exploiting new techniques and resources. These are the ones who are comfortable in trying out new technological tools to develop their learning – often manifested through creative products such as multimedia. That, at least, would make a far more distinctive definition for me.

And how does this relate to assessment? Is there something in the notion of self-motivation and ownership that distinguishes the higher levels? In another guise this week I have been looking at final year undergraduate and first year postgraduate assessment criteria. Higher levels of achievement are marked by ‘autonomy’. What is this if it is not creativity borne out of self-motivation and ownership?

Demos (2007) on creativity

17 January 2007

Returning to the Demos report I see a weak if discernible thread running through it – the relationship between creativity and technology. Or, put another way, the ways in which technology supports or enhances creative skills.

The report cites earlier Demos research in which young people are asked to rank ‘life skills’ in order of importance. Creativity comes a ‘only the eighth most important’ (page 27). In considering the life skills a dichotomy is established between traditional skills for the knowledge economy and the newer skills developed through growing up with technology. These are equated, in some ways, to creativity – or at least to those needed for the creative industries (p 24). Further, when surveying parents, 47% of men and 40% of women believed that their children’s use of technology helped developed creativity.

What are these skills? One set in the report (p 23) looks at those related to the role of guildmaster in the game World of Warcraft. Here it lists those that are to do with group development, apprenticeship, group strategies and dispute management. It goes on to argue that these ‘soft skills’ cannot be pigeonholed into one (or more subjects) and that there is a false split between knowledge and skills.

On the other hand these creative skills can be harnessed in both formal and informal contexts so long as the school does not block of, or deny, the technology that is an everyday part of the learner’s lives. In doing so, I believe, there would be greater potential for the detachment of assessment of the skills and knowledge acquired through using technology from the assessment of them.

But what is creativity? The NACCCE report has a definition ‘imaginative activity fashioned so as to produce outcomes that are both original and of value’ (1999:29). For me there is an interesting exploration here – is what is learnt in informal contexts more ‘imaginative’ and ‘original’ than in formal context, simply by its very nature? Or might that be the perception of learners and teachers?

Another angle on this comes in the Becta report by Twining et al (2006). Here the constraining nature of an assessment-led curriculum is seen as a barrier to creativity:

Assessment and curriculum are closely connected, and while there is little in the way of empirical research that indicates a clear link between the introduction of the National Curriculum and National Strategies and a reduction in risk taking in schools, there is substantial support for this view within the education community (Hacker and Rowe 1997; Harlen 2005; Harlen and Crick 2002; Black and Wiliam 1998). This is accompanied by advocacy of the need to adjust the curriculum and assessment to place greater emphasis on creativity and higher-level skills. The ‘thinning down’ of the National Curriculum in 2000 (DfEE 2000) and the introduction of the new Primary Strategy (DfES 2003), which place emphasis on creativity, suggest that a shift is occurring at least at the ‘lower’ end of the education system.

(page 56)

Twining P et al (2006) Educational change and ICT: an exploration of Priorities 2 and 3 of the DfES e-strategy in schools and colleges: The current landscape and implementation issue, Coventry: Becta

NACCCE (1999) All Our Futures: Creativity, Culture and Education. London: DfEE/DCMS

Aims revisited

16 January 2007

My original aims were

1. To critically analyse the ways in which students aged 16 construct their learning of ICT capability in formal and informal contexts.
2. To explore the relationship between formal and informal learning within the field of ICT.
3. To explore the methodologies of assessment of ICT capability at 16 and how this affects student perceptions of their capability.
4. To develop a theoretical base to evaluate the construct validity of assessment of ICT at 16.

In looking especially at numbers 2 and 4 a concept map (or at least a list) appears to be emerging. In addition to the concepts contained in these aims – formal and informal learning, validity of assessment, methodologies of assessment, personal constructs of learning – two others are emerging. One is about young people’s appropriation of technology for learning, the other is the policy agenda.

The former is the subject of the reports and books I seem to be drawn to.  Maybe it is this topic that will allow me a way into the theory of aim 1 – personal constructs. I have yet to touch on this, but much of the literature on young people’s use of technology seems to be based on this, if implicitly.

So in looking at the Demos report, there is much about how and what young people have learnt. The assumption seems to be that they are controlling the learning, choosing what to learn. Maybe it is also that they are constructing what they have learnt. Certainly if there is to be reverse-ICT then this construct of learning would need to be articulated or manifested in some way. It would be made explicit through the act of learners teaching adults. this is outside the scope of my research here. On the other hand the making of the learning explicit through examination of learners’ perceptions and constructs of their learning is at the heart of aim 1.

I had started to be concerned about the neglect of this aim and the associated theory. The reflection in this post is reassuring me somewhat – and is an example of not knowing what I thought until I wrote it.

The second emerging  new concept (or issue) – the policy agenda – must not be forgottenbut is probably best considered as part of aim 3. I guess the next step is to start to build a concept map of ideas and authors to help ‘design’ the literature review section/s of my thesis.

Demos (2007): Making the most of informal learning

15 January 2007

The Demos report I posted about includes a section on the systemic changes needed to recognise the learning of students in the application of ICT. In this extract they conclude that school needs to provide meta-learning opportunites for reflection. To this might be added the peer review that came out as a strong feature of the eVIVA project I worked on at Ultralab. Peer to peer networking is one of the phenomena recognised as in the report as providing a different learning landscaoe for today’s students compared to adults (see page 48 for example).

The model suggested by Demos seems to be – informal learning, formal meta-learning. With, presumably, the latter validating and (to use the language of assessment) standardising the former.

But it is not enough to simply listen to children and orient lessons around their out-of-school practices. Schools need to do more than this in order to recognise the value of, as well as build on, the new kinds of learning that are taking place. They need to create spaces for students to reflect on their learning and articulate their thoughts about it, which will enable them to transfer their skills. This is about:

recognising the new kinds of learning they are undertaking outside school and accepting that some of those emerging skills, knowledge and understanding need to be developed further in an educational environment. (61)

There has been significant research into how this can take place. (62) Meta-cognition is at the heart of it: the capacity to monitor, evaluate, control and change how one thinks and learns. In less formal terms this means reflecting on one’s learning and intentionally applying the results of one’s reflection to further learning. In this context it means reflecting on the kinds of skills young people are developing outside the formal environment. The rise of online, multiplayer gaming and web 2.0 has created a generation that feels comfortable with collaborating on a continuous, casual basis. From contributing to a Wikipedia entry, devoting hours to World of Warcraft or building a website dedicated to expressing their political frustrations there are a multitude of skills that are currently failing to transfer across to

Young people often struggle to explain why they like technology or to articulate what they are learning – this reflection could happen within formal education. (63)

From Demos (2007) Their Space, pp56-57

References (with original Demos numbering)

61 See J Marsh et al, Digital Beginnings: Young children’s use of popular culture, media and new technologies (Sheffield: University of Sheffield, 2005), see (accessed 15 Jan 2007).
62 See About Learning: Report of the Learning Working Group (London: Demos, 2005) for a comprehensive summary and analysis of the research.
63 Interview for this (Demos) project with Valerie Thompson, e-Learning Foundation, 15 Jun 2006.

Non-formal learning: literature review

14 January 2007

Original post 18/12/06

At the heart of what I am currently interested in is the definition space of learning as represented by the “parameter of fomality”. Namely classifying learning as formal, informal or non-formal or some combination of all three. I blogged on this recently.

Colley, Hodkinson and Malcolm (2002) produced a review of this landscape – very helpful! What is missing though is the extension to school-age students per se – this is where my work should sit.

Update (14/01/07): I have now found this 2003 (?) Futurelab literature review of informal learning with technology outside school. » BBC 2 Wales Christmas idents by six-year olds

14 January 2007

Link from

“So how would a six year old make an ident anyway?

2W ident

A group of six-year olds spent two days creating and filming ‘stop motion’ animations in clay to be broadcast by BBC Wales 2W (the Welsh equivalent of BBC2).

The final results were broadcast and are available on the South Wales Argus website.

The key questions for me are:

  • What did the children learn? According to themselves? According to their teachers? According to the researchers from
  • How would their work have been assessed?

These are six-year olds. What might sixteen-year olds do if given the chance? Does our assessment and qualifications system allow that chance?

Demos publish report on children’s use of social software

13 January 2007

Demos | Publications | Their Space

Summary from Demos website:

Their Space: Education for a digital generation draws on qualitative research with children and polling of parents to counter the myths obscuring the true value of digital media.

Approaching technology from the perspective of children, it tells positive stories about how they use online space to build relationships and create original content. It argues that the skills children are developing through these activities, such as creativity, communication and collaboration, are those that will enable them to succeed in a globally networked, knowledge-driven economy.

Update: post: Making the most of informal learning, 15 Jan 2007