I’m gearing up in my quest to become a reliable blogger, particularly now I’m starting a research project to complete my current formal study (M. Education) online through the University of Southern Queensland.

‘Nailing down’ a useful, focused research problem that might bring new insights to the teaching and learning support knowledge-base has been a challenging task. ICTs and associated practices of their users appear notoriously volatile and fluid, reinforcing both emergence and complexity themes for both the theoretical and practical dimensions. Much as a river delta broadens and flows into multiple channels, so too the research, applied projects and literature revolving around new media, web 2.0 and informal learning present a vast array of options.

The risk of a split focus for this project has become clear and I’m still considering how the two dimensions can be successfully connected to enhance each other. One aims to explore informal professional learning around sharing individual initiatives via social software mediated online community ‘space’ or ‘spaces’; ultimately to have a coherent, interconnected approach to learner support. The other aims to enhance the particular role of academic language and learning support offered by exploring the potential of informal learning in a social network shared with students, as well as expanding communication channels about events for example. Perhaps the latter is a particular within the whole of the former. Microcosmic and macrocosmic perspectives?

I’ll be using this blog to relate to that research and hope to make it interesting and/or useful for others. It’s been fascinating to reflect on the ‘path’ of interest I’ve followed, as revealed in the foci of my many papers/artefacts submitted in this M.Education course. The keywords evoked include informal learning, social media, emerging technologies, nomadic learners, mobile learning, professional learning, virtual worlds (Second Life); sustainability; communities of practice/interest/inquiry; learning ecologies; connectivism; complexity and chaos theory; academic learning support; web 2.0; personalised learning networks…  looking a bit wild and random in places but it’s been fun and in many ways, serendipitous.

I also connect to metaphors for learning (which could be one of the reasons I’m such a fan of John Seely-Brown and friends).  Others come to mind… Dave Cormier’s ‘rhizomatic education’ (2008); David Weinberger with his ‘small pieces loosely joined’, George Siemens considers metaphors of educators (2008) and reconsiders metaphors of change (2009)  in his brilliant connectivism blog. Ah… but I digress!

The original focus began with my interest in researching learning on the move, particularly for those who live aboard and cruise on boats. My own ‘problems’ in engaging in formal learning whilst doing that triggered this interest, but also the awesome volume and range of informal learning involved in the cruising lifestyle. Pat Danaher, (one of my lecturers at USQ), has written extensively on ‘traveller education’ and related issues. I also found some research on cruisers, with sociology and psychology foci, from Jennings more recently, and Macbeth preceding that. Neither of them investigated learning which suggests I could still check out this ‘gap’ in the research in the future.

I see Curt Bonk has explored this area of interest – read one of his articles  The wide open learning world: sea, land, and ice views in the Association for Learning Technology newsletter and/or visit his TravelinEdMan blog. He has a new book out titled The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education. Informal learning is, as I mentioned, especially relevant for those learning on the move. Bonk has included the experiences of some young sailors.

I’m enjoying the apparent renaissance of interest in informal learning. Jay Cross is a name I associate with informal learning – get a taste of his 2007 book Informal learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance at http://internettime.pbworks.com/The-Book.   Brown and Thomas (2010) have been playing with conceptions of  neo-human-learners as homo sapiens (knowers), homo faber (makers) and homo ludens (players) – see Chapter 22 in University research for innovation (Glion Colloquium). delgiorgio shares a review of their book A new culture of learning, cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change (2011).  Jane Bozarth (2010) also considers informal learning as it happens between formal learning events, among other things, in Social media for trainers.

A persistent thread in the weaving of my learning has been focused on harnessing social media for learning in communities: the expansion and evolution of this area of interest in education and training is testament I believe to its value. I’ll explore this thread and those others I presented as keywords above in further posts.

Meanwhile, dare I say any leads to emerging theories and/or initiatives relevant to social media and informal/formal learning would be appreciated. The literature review is a work in progress for this project, but at some point I’ll just have to cut off the reading and save it for future pleasure and enlightenment. Your comments are similarly most welcome.