A comparison of formal and non-formal virtual learning communities <ul><li>Richard A. Schwier </li></ul><ul><li>Dirk Morrison </li></ul><ul><li>Ben K. Daniel </li></ul><ul><li>Paper presented at WBE 08 IASTED </li></ul><ul><li>Innsbruck, Austria March 17, 2008 </li></ul>
Purpose <ul><li>extend what we have learned about VLCs in formal learning environments to how learners in non-formal learning environments will make use of VLCs to enhance informal learning </li></ul>
Formal Contexts <ul><li>Learners grouped in classes </li></ul><ul><li>Taught by teachers </li></ul><ul><li>Curriculum defined by institution </li></ul><ul><li>Often part of a graduated system of certification </li></ul>
Informal Contexts <ul><li>Learner-organized and directed </li></ul><ul><li>Less systematic/ planned </li></ul><ul><li>Sometimes marked by unintentional or serendipitous learning </li></ul>
Non-Formal Contexts <ul><li>Include features of formal contexts - externally organized, supported </li></ul><ul><li>Include features of informal contexts - learner self-directedness, independence within a structured domain </li></ul><ul><li>e.g. webinars, PLE, optional elements in a course </li></ul>
Comparison - Catalysts Formal VLC Non-Formal VLC Strong teacher presence, with directed discussion and deliberate strategies employed to engage learners with each other. Teachers may not be as directive, and learner engagement will rise or fall based on how compelling the perceived need is to communicate.
Comparison - Emphases Formal VLC Non-Formal VLC Institutionally or centrally defined. Most formal VLCs emphasize communities of ideas, although other reasons for participating may motivate individual members. Defined by individuals and interest groups. Non-formal communities are typically designed with particular emphases in mind, and participants congregate based on shared interests, but outcomes are individually defined.
Comparison - Identity Formal VLC Non-Formal VLC Teachers can articulate the focus or purpose of the community, and outline the requirements and rituals associated with membership in the community. Participants are typically known to each other. Participants may wish to remain anonymous or to protect their identities. Fictitious identities may be used to guard identity in some non-formal settings, yet participants can be encouraged to engage each other in authentic ways.
Comparison - Participation Formal VLC Non-Formal VLC Participation can be encouraged or made compulsory as part of the formal requirements of the learning environment. Fewer external controls over individual investments and outcomes translate into greater control by learners about their own levels of participation.
Comparison - Technology Formal VLC Non-Formal VLC In formal learning environments, it is critically important to provide support for learning how to use communication features of the technology-based system used by the group. In non-formal settings transparency and ease of use are paramount. Participants will find alternative loci for learning if the technological context for learning is awkward or difficult.
Comparison - Learning Formal VLC Non-Formal VLC In formal environments, an instructor will often remind participants of externally imposed learning intentions, and intervene when interaction drifts too far away from the defined learning focus. Non-formal learning environments may articulate central purposes and goals, but learners will adapt them to satisfy individual purposes.
Comparison - Trust Formal VLC Non-Formal VLC In a formal VLC, an instructor will often spend a considerable amount of energy trying to build trust among participants and between the instructor and participants As informality increases, the development of trust may become more elusive, as participants choose to trust or distrust other participants based on episodic experience or perception of individual attributes of others.
Conclusions <ul><li>comparisons are speculative - guide an empirical and narrative research agenda </li></ul><ul><li>actual differences a function of how a learning leader chooses to operate with a group </li></ul><ul><li>any give class may include formal, non-formal and informal learning environments </li></ul><ul><li>important for educators to learn how to support non-formal learning within formal environments </li></ul>
Conclusions <ul><li>research needs to identify shared and unique characteristics of non-formal VLC, identify the relative importance of characteristics, & understand social and pedagogical implications </li></ul><ul><li>need for narrative data from participants about how they experience non-formal learning and SDL, and what their social networking means to them as learners </li></ul>