Non-Formal Education Connection

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

As educators we need to support all forms of knowledge acquisition in all learning environments. There is little difference surrounding the physicality of these learning environments but rather the motivating factors that differ between formal, non-formal and informal learning. Non-formal learning allows for the student to be in charge of their learning and the motivating factors that inspired them to pursue knowledge. A lot of teacher dialogue surrounds how to motivate students in the classroom. The attempt is to take dry material and make it exciting. Unfortunately student excitement is more often a result of extrinsic motivating factors (candy, time outside of the classroom setting) which is in contrast to non-formal learning in which self-defined learning outcomes guides the student. Educators in American public schools, at least here in North Carolina, are stuck between lame textbook content and the push of the No Child Left Behind initiative. If students do not achieve then the school does not get proper funding. It is very easy to see how the downward spiral of educational funding then acts as an external motivation and reduces teacher based initiatives as pacing guides and end of grade tests take over as indicators of success. If students don’t perform well on the test they must not be learning. Such an antiquated notion of learning permeates this failing system and it is not a healthy environment for learners. It is then up to educators to utilize other forms of context and pattern generating experiences in order to ensure not only the content has been attained but also base skills of intellectual interaction have been fostered for long term success.
One way to support non-formal learning would be through the use of technology like wiki’s or class blogs. Instead of students leaving the class with homework that only caters to the repetition of in class work, which is most often not completed, we can provide an online environment where student engagement is generated by their desire to be a part of the classroom community as extended online. Students can post questions, problems they have created, or thoughts and solutions about difficult questions. This would allow students to interact in a non-formal environment they created based on their learning needs. Some traditional views may see this as a form of cheating of sorts but it is no different from a student helping their neighbor solve a problem in the classroom. They don’t just give answers but are encouraged to discuss how they processed the information and generated the solution (pattern attainment). I believe once students participate in this virtual world they will bring back these skills to the classroom and be even more successful in their day-to-day problem solving.

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