Oxford Union debate endorses informal learning.
I am delighted to report that this week’s E.Learning debate at the Oxford Union roundly defeated the motion‘This house believes that technology based informal learning is more style than substance.’
Frankly, a motion which condemned technology learning as being devoid of substance was never likely to go down well with the 400-strong audience invited by the sponsor, Epic, the e.learning content producing company.
Strangely for me, the motion was championed by Alison Rossett from San Diego University. I am an admirer of her writing, but even her cleverly argued case did not win my support or that of many participants. A major plank in her case was that we naturally demand the reassurance of formal training for staff who have job roles on which lives and financial security are at stake. In fact she was making a strong case for formal and rigorous skills assessment but her argument said little about learning mode.
The motion was opposed by another American – William H Dutton – who heads up the authoritative Oxford Internet Survey . His statistics illustrated how the internet is widely used for a huge amount of ‘just in time’ information gathering . His team clearly were preaching to an audience of the converted, and they did sadly fail to drive home the real value of technology to turn information access into knowledge. through the testing and sharing that comes from online social interactions. Ironically it was their opponent Alison Rossett who so famously introduced the notions of the stuff (content) and stir (learning activity) of learning. The role of technology in the stirring of the learning process was unfortunately underplayed by both sides.
It could even be said that at times the debate itself was at risk of displaying a preponderance of style over substance. The archaic traditions of academic debating, including obligatory but diversionary rivalry between Oxford and Cambridge triumphed, whilst the substance of a clear and agreed definition of informal learning might have helped frame the discussion better.
In a debate which focussed heavily on the informal learning ‘add ons’ for undergraduates, I was moved to comment that for many adults informal learning with technology may be the main learning opportunity they would have. I think it behoves us all to make sure that informal learning with technology should have plenty of substance but with all the flare and panache of style as well.