TRAILER: A Tool for Managing Informal Learning

TRAILER: A Tool for Managing Informal Learning

Clara Viegas (School of Engineering (ISEP), Polytechnic Institute of Porto, Porto, Portugal), Maria Marques (School of Engineering (ISEP), Polytechnic Institute of Porto, Porto, Portugal), Gustavo Alves (School of Engineering (ISEP), Polytechnic Institute of Porto, Porto, Portugal), Aleksandra Mykowska (Dom Szkoleń i Doradztwa Mykowska Aleksandra, Kraków, Poland), Nikolas Galanis (Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain), Marc Alier (Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Barcelona, Spain), Francis Brouns (Open Universiteit, Welten Institute, Heerlen, The Netherlands), José Janssen (Open Universiteit, Welten Institute, Heerlen, The Netherlands), Francisco J. García-Peñalvo (Computer Science Department, University of Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain), Alicia Holgado (University of Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain), Valentina Zangrando (University of Salamanca, Salamanca, Spain) and Miguel Ángel Conde-González (Department of Mechanical, Computer Science and Aerospace Engineering, University of León, León, Spain)
DOI: 10.4018/ijhcitp.2014070101
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Abstract

Even though informal learning plays an important role in everyone's life, not everyone is aware of its importance. These informal activities contribute to the development of self-regulated learning that can help productivity in different environments. As this kind of apprentices grow, the need to keep track of this developed knowledge is becoming vital. This paper presents a study on the perception and usage of a tool that would help keeping track of learners' informal learning. This study was conducted both within academic and professional contexts and was developed within the European Commission funded TRAILER project. The contexts were similar regarding the importance and perception of informal learning, but differed concerning tool usage and the usefulness of such a platform. The overall idea of managing one's informal learning was well accepted and welcomed, which validated the emerging need for a tool with this purpose.
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1. Introduction

Learning does not only take place within formal educational institutions. People learn throughout their lives, from experience, from reading or research, from conversations or observing others, from meetings, etc. (Garcia-Peñalvo, Colomo-Palacios & Lytras, 2012). Either due to simple curiosity or the need to solve a problem, people are always seeking for information and answers that can help them with specific issues. Nowadays this search is easy and fast. The distinction between formal, informal and non-formal learning started being fostered in the middle of the last century (Conner, n.d.; Marsick &Watkins, 1990; Mosher, 2011). According to recent studies, informal learning (IL) can account for over 75% of one’s continuous learning throughout life (Conner & Clawson, 2004; Cross, 2007). Even though most of IL methods have always been used, the awareness of these methods, as contributors to learning and enhancers of competence development, is more recent (Mosher, 2011). IL happens anytime and anywhere. People are nowadays more dependent on technology in order to solve any ordinary problems and/or challenges and so ICT tools are contributing to this paradigm change.

For the purpose of this work, two main IL contexts will be considered: the academic (institutions for higher education) and the professional (companies) environments. Peoples’ goals in these contexts can be considered different. Most companies still focus solely on formal learning programs, thus losing valuable information on the know-how employees develop informally (Conner & Clawson, 2004; Marsick &Watkins, 1990). However, many professional practices have been reported in the literature as being equally or even more effective, such as informal meetings or simply coffee breaks (Cross, 2007). In fact, it can be considered paradoxical (Conner, 2008) that companies spend 80% of their budget to re-qualify their employees by means of formal learning workshops and courses, while 80% of what their employees are really learning, is learned through informal learning activities.

Regarding educational institutions, Digenti (2000) notes that one of the ways that eLearning can help students to learn more effectively is by creating informal learning environments. However, most schools still focus only on formal learning programs, and in doing so fail to draw on know-how students develop by themselves (Conner, n.d.).

Cross (2007) argues that since the initiative for IL lies with the learners, they become more responsible, which makes the learning process more effective. The author states that employers should create a supportive organizational culture helping employees to develop and improve their skills, by facilitating IL processes within companies. In fact, this is in accordance with what is known as intrinsic motivation to learn (Deci & Ryan, 1985) and self-regulated learning (Boekaerts & Minnaert, 1999; Dabbagh & Kitsantas, 2012). In order to really develop competences on a deep level, learners must be intrinsically motivated to do so (otherwise they simply cover the subject in order to fulfill the necessary – imposed - requisites). In this sense, it becomes important to watch and harness the more informal methodologies students are using to develop their competences and expertise (Mosher, 2012). On the other hand, learners should not be considered passive in their developments but rather active learners, since they seek for information and knowledge because they want to (or feel the need to) which can make learning much more productive (Dabbagh & Kitsantas, 2012).

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