Informal Learning Projects and World Wide Voluntary Co-Mentoring

Informal Learning Projects and World Wide Voluntary Co-Mentoring

Nicholas Bowskill (University of Sheffield, UK)
Copyright: © 2009 |Pages: 9
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-198-8.ch167
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Abstract

This article seeks to explore the potential of online communities to support and develop new professionaldevelopment practices around collaborative mentoring and informal learning projects. This study seeks to address the following research hypotheses. 1. Informal learning can be utilised as a developmental approach in an online open environment. 2. Online communities can learn from involvement with informal learning projects and they can support the development of a community history and identity. 3. Online communities can be effective in supporting informal learning projects. 4. Informal learning can be a vehicle for crossing borders related to lifelong learning (namely those of time, culture, religion, geographical distance, different jobs, and careers).
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Introduction

This article seeks to explore the potential of online communities to support and develop new professional-development practices around collaborative mentoring and informal learning projects. This study seeks to address the following research hypotheses.

  • 1.

    Informal learning can be utilised as a developmental approach in an online open environment.

  • 2.

    Online communities can learn from involvement with informal learning projects and they can support the development of a community history and identity.

  • 3.

    Online communities can be effective in supporting informal learning projects.

  • 4.

    Informal learning can be a vehicle for crossing borders related to lifelong learning (namely those of time, culture, religion, geographical distance, different jobs, and careers).

Jobring (2002) describes online learning communities as context providers in a move away from being content providers. Jobring also notes three key areas of concern, which are community management, community measurement, and skills for working within communities. Community measurement particularly asks how we might come to know what is being learned within a community. This article offers a clear framework to facilitate a view of what is being learned through the collaborative support of informal learning projects in an online community. However, in providing the possibility of an audit, it argues that these are but traces of learning activity at several levels within the community. One outcome of this collaboration is the creation of archived case studies from within the community. This provides a method for knowledge management in a voluntary setting. The processes and the experiences that have arisen from this pilot work have borne richer fruits in work that continues today.

The point raised about skills is also interesting as Jobring (2002) identifies seven skills marking an apprenticeship from initial joining to a position of greater autonomy. In the initiative described below, the author marks out a similar apprenticeship structure around involvement in co-mentoring of informal learning projects. His own experience of apprenticeship (described below) does, however, suggest that the idea of an apprenticeship as a linear hill climb may hide other issues to do with movements between different positions within the apprenticeship. As such, the apprenticeship may better be described as a development framework wherein the structure is an apparatus to be used differently according to needs and circumstances across time.

This article describes a pilot self-help initiative within an online community. This model is the author’s own informal learning project (Tough, 1971) and forms part of the author’s doctoral research at the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom. The model provides an open member-to-member service that is culturally sensitive and inclusive.

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Informal Learning

Tough (1971) and others have identified that many people have developed numerous ideas and interests outside formal educational settings. Although the potential of the Internet has been identified, there is little evidence of practice beyond casual use of the Internet for browsing and joining discussion lists or participating in occasional events. This paper will demonstrate how informal learning is being developed within a voluntary online community. Figure 1 (derived from Long, 2001), gives an overview of relationships between formal and informal learning. This is drawn from different studies in the literature.

Figure 1.

Overview of the relationship between formal and informal learning

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