Friday, 8 November 2013

What is Pervasive Learning?

Steve Rayson the General Manager for City and Guilds Kineo (Kineo Pacific is part of the group) was in Wellington today delivering an interesting and engaging presentation breakfast on emerging trends in e-learning, luckily for me I was able to attend and get some learning insights from the session (of course it would have been even luckier if I hadn't had to get up at 4.30am in order to make it there!).  There was some really good and interesting points around the way social learning was taking us and how we could leverage that in our work with learners, but the phrase that really stuck with me was pervasive learning.  So now I'm sitting on my flight back to the big smoke and thinking about how that connects to our learning and what we do.

Whilst giving credit to Charles Jenning's 70/20/10 rule and the more recent 33/33/33 rule, it's clear if nothing else that pervasive learning is probably a better way of putting it.  There's no really easy way to measure how much of learning is truly informal as most informal learning is so informal that most of it goes unmeasured, I'll probably get sued for saying this but I suspect 70% is more a gut feel than anything scientific, but the key point is that whether it's 33% (yes, I wondered where the 1% went too) or 70% of learning that's informal, learning goes beyond what we learn in the classroom or on our online module; it's pervasive - it's everywhere and we simply never stop learning.  If I wanted to define Pervasive Learning in its simplest way I would say it's that learning is in everything we do.  An old colleague of mine in the Navy used to say 'everyday is a school day' as a twist on 'you learn something new everyday'; maybe it's more like you are a learning machine and you learn constantly whether you want to or not - constant learning maybe.

I know lots of people out there hate the term 'learners' and prefer to think of staff or users, after all learning is something of a misnomer in many ways and what people learn or don't learn can be difficult to measure and account for at the best of times, but perhaps if learning is pervasive so are learners.  That doesn't mean that you're suddenly not safe from your learners showing up in the middle of the night at your door (disclaimer: you may not be, I don't know who've you upset, I was talking generally) but that essentially we are all learners in just about everything we do.  Once you start thinking like that, it means that rather than limiting your opportunity to deliver learning in the 10% world you just gained immediate access to the larger share.

So given there's a lot of potential to this extra learning opportunity, the obvious question is how do we go about delivering in this space?  Since pervasive learning is about the way we learn beyond the formal learning, we need to embrace a solution that goes beyond the formal environment traditionally used in training.  One of the biggest keys to succeeding in this space is being able to provide the environment for learners to learn beyond what the formal training has delivered.  Think of this if you will as the university of life.  I went to university (hard to believe I know) and learned a lot, but I learned a lot about life, relationships, learning itself, beer and some physics and computing thrown in for luck (yes, I studied some geeky stuff back then).  Even younger education and high school, the children learn all about key subjects like sciences, language and mathematics, but they also learn far more about society, conformity and humanity.  Good schools and universities provide the right environment for this to occur.  I've taught in some good schools and some that weren't so good and the key difference wasn't actually the pupils or the teachers, it was the environment.  You need to accept that social learning isn't a gimmicky thing that we do on computers, it's the way we actually learn - it's just learning from and with others and why wouldn't you want that to occur?

Creating the right environment for learning is actually not just a nice to have, it's essential if you want your learning to be pervasive.  Just how do you go about achieving this?  Well, the answer is in the total environment of course, that means learning spaces that are conducive to good learning, but from an 'e' perspective you can achieve this through the use of social media tools and opening up your system somewhat.  If you're organisation has a block on LinkedIn, YouTube, Google +, Twitter and Facebook then you may have to look at other ways of achieving this.  Your LMS may have social learning tools built in, start thinking more about those tools as setting your environment - forums don't necessarily have to be strictly controlled or assessable - they can work very nicely as a social sharing environment.  You could also look beyond your LMS and consider a social learning platform like the excellent Mahara (Open Source) that plugs nicely into Totara LMS I might add!  Whereas an LMS tends to be organisation centric, a social learning platform is more learner centred and that's pretty much the key to pervasive learning.  If your system tends to allow the sites I mentioned above through then rather than trying to discourage their use you could provide a gateway to them with suggested areas of interest.  In fact you could use your forums to discuss good areas and that in itself will open up for others to make suggestions too.

How will we track this more pervasive form of learning?  Another blog and another time but analytics are going to play a part :)