Informal Learning as Dialectics of Activity

Informal Learning as Dialectics of Activity

Peter H. Sawchuk (University of Toronto, Canada)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8265-8.ch001
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The concept of informal learning has made an invaluable contribution, in a short time, to overthrowing the hegemony of formalize learning. And, as conceptualizations of informal learning have diversified, they have helped provide the basis for broader conceptualizations. In this chapter, drawing in particular on the work of Bertell Ollman (1993), the author outlines the role of an expansive material dialectical understanding of informal learning, its foundation in a philosophy of internal relations, and four integrated analytic moves that allow researchers to realize the potential for synthesis stemming from the concept of informal learning. Following that is a rationale for the claim that a more expansive material dialectics is most clearly possible in the theory of activity associated with what Stetsenko (2009) refers to as the Vygotskian Project.
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I believe in its short career as a concept it is remarkable the way that informal learning has so swiftly come to stand on the doorstep of mainstream educational thought. Indeed, conceptualizations of informal learning have rapidly diversified. In many instances informal learning has come to virtually refuse clear definition such that the closer one looks the blurrier it becomes. And, as we will see later, I do not necessarily feel this is a bad thing at all.

For now however, as a way of proceeding, I want to begin with a broad organizing heuristic in order to support an understanding of how and why I am focussing my attention in this chapter in the way that I am. There are many details omitted in the following, but (heuristically) I think it is possible to talk about a division line between what I will refer to as “categorical” and “radical” traditions in the study of informal learning. These are terms that I argue are useful even while researchers can and do straddle them.

In order to consider the practical uses of empirical study, I define categorical treatments as those that presume and/or maintain the concept of informal learning as a distinctive type or species of learning. Here, inherently and often unsatisfyingly defined in the negative, the examples are legion, though diverse. And, many are exhaustively detailed in the authoritative review offered by Colley, Hodkinson and Malcolm(2003) where we can see the range of definitional attributes involved, and debated.

The principal contribution by Colley et al. for my purposes however is to identify alternatives to the categorical (types) approach to informal learning. Indeed, they go on to conclude that such a categorical approach is not only distinctive, but analytically untenable:

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