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Things can change as I get more into the literature, but the plan for my DPhil at the moment is to do something about informal learning in communities within a virtual world context.

The next task is to put together a proper literature review.  This will be accompanied by making a plan for the next 12 months including what I am actually doing as opposed to just defining areas of interest and reading a lot of stuff.

The areas to be addressed in the literature review will be:

  • What makes a community – what is meant by the term community?
    • community development models and literature (looking at the literature from the 60’s and 70’s and possibly earlier as well as more recent stuff)
    • online communities, both 2D and 3D and the sense of place and presence found in these communities – are online communities really communities (thinking of argument we had in my OU tutor group).
    • communities of interest – people bound together out of common interests/hobbies/challenges/disabilities/etc rather than people who live in proximity to each other
    • learning communities – both Wenger’s communities of practice and the community of inquiry model from Athabasca
  • What is informal learning? (Might be useful to also look for a working definition of learning per se)
    • Recent government white paper and the preceding consultation process
    • Various older NIACE documents, including the McGivney stuff if I can get hold of it
    • Colley’s work on formality and informality as aspects of all learning
    • Peer group learning
    • possibly child development in some way – could tie into Self Determination Theory and intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (which I was thinking about in the Ecolab presentation around competence and achievement focus/drivers)
  • What constitutes a virtual world?
    • should be possible to draw on work I’ve done for DELVE and other things I’ve been reading, including the various ethnographic studies in Second Life
    • To include or not to include 2D virtual worlds (interesting thoughts around SLED as a community of peer group learners)

I do need to give some thought to why this matters rather than just being something that interests me.  Initial thoughts include:

  • The diatribes on virtual worlds and social networking from Susan Greenfield – are kids brains being fried and kids being turned into anti-social zombies or are they participating in learning experiences.  If the latter, what?
  • Government white paper talks about informal learning, but context seems to be as pathway to formal learning or to employment or both, with no real value on informal learning for its own sake.
  • There is a lot of formal learning in 3D worlds, but there seems to be an element of informal learning underpinning this some of the time, SLED for example.  that informal learning may be in a variety of places.  If the forms informal learning takes can be identified, it might be possible to use it more formally in scaffolding learning experiences. (This sounds a bit counter to what I think I am interested in if I am saying informal learning should be valued for itself.)
  • Informal learning seems to have links to Self Determination theory – competence, autonomy – and community is to do with relatedness. Would be neat to be able to tie this together and say something about the importance of intrinsic motivation.

In the meantime, a couple of possible representations of what I want to look at.  I suspect the second is nearer the mark, but another area for more work.



  1. Rob says:

    When I read “Trying to get my head around annual review report” I found I really wanted to respond but didn’t know what to say. As you know, we have similar professional histories, and I suspect I found so much that was familiar, but at the same time, I would have been responding to my own history and I got confused about mixing the two.

    Then I looked at “Getting out of the fog – a bit” and, just as your thoughts have become clearer, so have mine. Learning history the same – I learned the history of the British Empire by writing the teacher’s dictation down and regurgitating it word for word at the end of term exam… But although we have different ideas in general nowadays, I wonder how much of that actually transmits itself through to children’s experience – look at the numbers of our students who have learned that learning means being taught. And I then wonder how significant the self selection is of the people in SL who indulge in both the learning and the gift giving.

    Now I’m looking at “Planning” and things are coming together a bit. I’ve been wondering over the last couple of weeks if you might end up doing a kind of ethnographic study, which would include yourself as a participant observer. I thought you might find there a narrative that would pull together the various threads from community development, personal history, etc. That’s the main thing I wanted to say; I only have some tangential comments on the substance of “Planning”.

    Community: the question are online communities really communities, and communities of interest. I’ve noticed recently that some of the literature and a lot of the debate that that literature spawns goes back to making a basic mistake that I thought we’d got over in the 60s – a conflation of community with neighbourhood. If you get past that nostalgic notion, it’s a lot easier to have a debate about what really makes community. Another issue is that the online world is just like the physical world – people use the word community about all sorts of groupings of people that may or may not have any connection with each other besides physical or electronic proximity. Maybe you want to avoid getting too hung up on the meaning of community, or you’ll end up writing 3 PhDs about that alone. (PS one thing I am sure of is that in our formal work we don’t create communities, we create environments, and sometimes communities emerge within them.)

    Official stuff / government stuff. I suppose you have to look at all that stuff, but I find much of it terminally compromised by all being premissed on the notion of employability without taking any account of the way people control their own learning and gain value in their own ways. Ho hum.

    Child development – I’ve done a bit of stuff on Vygotsky lately, and found thought provoking his idea that development of higher mental faculties is interpersonal before it is intrapersonal. In other words infants develop mental abilities in interaction with other people, and only begin to deploy them internally after a lot of interpersonal practice. When our contemporaries were learning how to teach it was all Piaget, simply because Vygotskian writing hadn’t got out of Russia. But in some ways Vygotsky superseded Piaget before he came along. Might be worth a look. His idea of the zone of proximal development might also be useful in the context of informal learning; I think it’s an idea due for a bit of development.

    Reference to the Greenfield (spit, spit) stuff might take you towards ideas for policy development rather than purely theoretical findings. Maybe a way of looking at the child as a being capable of relating in a variety of different ways; and maybe ideas about parenting and schooling that enable that process rather than traditional prescriptions.

  2. lizit says:

    Thanks for that Rob. You are saying so much of what I am thinking – does that come partly from so much shared history, even in different locales, etc. From the annual review, it would seem perfectly OK to have a policy facing thesis (obviously underpinned by research findings rooted in theory, etc). I suspect my background almost ensures an interest in policy and action (is that politics) rather than just theory without applications.

    I’ve been wondering whether I needed to tackle Vygotsky and I think you’ve convinced me that I can’t escape that one :-).

    Your comments on government stuff very much reflect my own – learning, in a holistic sense, must be about more than employability, but something about being human. That might well lead back to the Self Determination theory stuff and Deci.

    It is good to know this is resonating with you – reassures me that I’m not just going off on one!

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