The biggest challenge for me in writing my research proposal has been weaving the various streams of literature and theory together, and then relating it back to my research question. This has been a trying process that has made me dizzy as I think and question in what seems to be circles. Today, it stuck me that perhaps I was asking the wrong question.
The primary question of my proposed research is “How can graduate students harness the potential of online social networking sites as a powerful informal learning tool?” I explore this question through a connectivist lens of networked learning. Secondly, the research also address the question, “How can educators bridge informal learning through social networking sites with their formal instruction?” It is this second question that is currently pestering me. The issue surrounds my use of the word ‘bridge’. It struck me that using the word ‘bridge’ conceptualizes formal and informal learning as two separate and distinct entities, or silos if you will. Our task then as educators is to find ways to bridge them to each other.
However, from a connectivist viewpoint informal and formal learning are not silos, they are connected nodes within a learner’s existing learning network. Connectivism emphasizes the connection between those nodes and the weight placed on them (Siemens, 2005). Therefore, the focus shifts now to how much value is placed on the connection between formal and informal learning. And I (along with many others I’m sure) would argue not enough. From this perspective, informal and formal learning could be visualized in this way:
I align myself with the second conceptualization, and am now contemplating if the language in my research question needs to change to reflect this. Instead of exploring formal and informal education as something to be bridged, should I be asking, “How can educators and learners strengthen the connection between informal learning through online social networking and formal instruction?”
Siemens, G. (2005). Connectivism: Learning as Network-Creation. Learning Circuits. Retrieved from http://www.asted.org/LC/2005/1105_siemens.htm