Learning happens

I’ve been trying to practice more mindfulness lately and one of the things I’ve noticed as a result is how often informal learning happens. It made me think that we should create more opportunities for that – after all, isn’t a teacher one who creates opportunities for learning?

A few examples:

  • At an informal PRSSA get-together, we were sitting around a table munching on chips & salsa, and students were exchanging interview experiences. People would tell stories, share advice and resources. It hit how much the students were learning about job interviewing during that relaxed, informal conversation.
  • ***
  • When I was a graduate student at Purdue and had first started teaching, other grad. students and I would often get together and “bitch” about students and teaching. I’m now realizing that those bitching sessions were actually learning sessions – we learned a lot from each other about classroom management, assignments, and new exercises to use in our classes.
  • ***
  • I was sitting in my office with a couple of students earlier today talking about a report they have to write about Career Launch Day. One of the students interrupted me to ask “Where did you learn this? How do you know so much?” Compliment aside, I realize her question marked an instance of learning. She was learning something new during our informal conversation.

My previous employer, the University of Dayton, had launched this program to encourage informal interaction between faculty and students. For example, I could host a book club at my house, and the university would pay for pizza. I left UD before I got a chance to take advantage of that program, but I now understand they were on to something: Creating opportunities for informal learning.

The Clemson culture is more formal than UD, where it was usual for faculty to go out to lunch with undergraduate students – so, other than PRSSA meetings, I don’t see many opportunities for informal learning here.

How can educators create more opportunities for informal learning? Or should we? Will students count it as “real” learning? Will administrators?

Even outside academia, I hope we’ll take that second to acknowledge and appreciate when learning happens – many times not at formal lectures and conferences, but on the beach or over a beer…

Do you have any informal learning stories? Care to share?

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve noticed that there’s often an inverse ratio between teaching and learning: ‘the more we teach, the less they learn’.

    I wholeheartedly agree that good teaching creates opportunities for learning, and that we need to make space for this learning to happen.

    We’re close to a time when we can see ‘open source learning’ happening through interactions in spaces like this and PROpenMic.

    This approach works for adults, who prefer pull to push. But school children still expect to be spoon-fed and in university we’re teaching people who are making the journey between these two places, so can’t entirely abandon the old didactic ways.


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