ACM Logo  An ACM Publication  |  CONTRIBUTE  |  FOLLOW    

Power to the Learners

By Christine Hipple, Karen Mattingly / March 2012

Print Email
Comments Instapaper

Last summer we signed up for EDUC689, "Special Topics in ISD: Designing for Informal Learning," an elective taught by Jeannette Campos as part of the Instructional Systems Development graduate program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.

Instead of the expected course announcement, syllabus, and introduction thread on Blackboard, the course began with a YouTube video titled "Let's Get Ready to Rumble." The syllabus indicated there would be no rubric, no paper, and that we, the learners, would generate most of the content in a collegial rather than instructional environment. Content would be released throughout the week in a number of places. We would be reading three books in 12 weeks and would collaborate on a book report for one of them. Our instructor, Jeannette Campos, indicated we'd be required to try new things, go public with our knowledge, and make mistakes. We'd need to figure it out and settle for less-than-perfect.

The six "survivors" of this learning experience were a varied lot, but at the end of the course we generally agreed that it was a transformational learning experience in which each of us worked much harder than we needed to in order to experience and learn as much as we could.

Who We Are


And now, we, the people of EDUC 689, have come together to share our experiences before, during, and after the class in the form of 140-character tweets. We share them with the readers of eLearn Magazine in the hopes that more learners and educators could benefit from a similar experience.

We signed up because…

Julie: I heard from others that Jeannette's informal learning class was fantastic and wanted to experience it for myself!

Chris: I was psyched. I'm a boomer who loves technology and learning and wants to remain relevant in the field—this was a natural elective for me.

Karen: This is going to be fun! I know about informal learning because that is how I've learned most on-the-job.

Edward: I wanted to get more insight into how informal learning relates to ISD.

Steve: I believe in formal learning-curious to see if real case could be made for informal learning. If anyone could do it, Jeannette could.

Kay: Fit my interest and would expose me to something new I didn't already know about through my own work experience.

We were expecting…

Kay: Expected usual Blackboard site and discussion threads. Boy, was I wrong! We were learning with the tools we were learning about!

Karen: I didn't know what to expect but I knew I wanted to learn how to incorporate informal learning into my own ways of knowing and learning.

Steve: I really had few expectations; I was surprised that the class was informal teaching about informal rather than formal teaching informal.

Julie: I had no idea what to expect, but was hoping for different and fun.

How the class "felt"…

Steve: Most class connection I've had in the program. Much of it was the participants, but the content and format really contributed to the connection—we HAD to participate.

Karen: What a great experience! Not only did the learning sneak up on me, I also REALLY connected with everyone.

Chris: I felt immersed in informal learning. I had to organize myself to actively seek rather than passively absorb.

Kay: Course was fast, creative, scary, encouraging, stimulating, and immediately applicable. Not the usual elective.

What we loved…

Steve: The topics I didn't expect much from often presented the most possibilities. I also got to try new things, something I rarely have time for.

Chris: The amount and pace of learning was staggering compared with other courses.

Karen: Assignments and expectation never felt like a chore. Pacing was quick—time flew by and every interaction brought new knowledge and experiences!

Kay: Was a safe place to explore new tools and dip my toes in the social media pool.

Our frustrations…

Steve: I like technical solutions and specific application of tools. We covered a lot of 'big picture' and not much about how to do a specific task.

Chris: Grr my twitter account wasn't set up right at first. No responses in my first #lrnchat. Felt awful, but technology—like people—isn't perfect.

Karen: Where am I supposed to be today? I missed an important piece of that assignment. Class members were right there to help. Thanks everybody!

Edward: I was frustrated initially because I found it difficult to learn some of the tools.

What we learned…

Steve: I've not moved from formal to informal, but I do see informal learning as a valid piece of a learning plan.

Chris: I learned to express myself in 140 characters. Or less.

Kay: Greatest learning came from learning about the gurus of the Internet Time Alliance. Oh the possibilities of informal learning!

Karen: What a great opportunity to meet folks who are making it happen every day—AND learn new tools! Now I have a personal learning network!

The best tool/experience…

Steve: Twitter led me to learn all sorts of things. Many things I didn't need to learn and many more I didn't know I needed to learn.

Chris: Reading Made to Stick, working with Kay to create a book club wiki and using Flipsnack for a book report.

Julie: Twitter and TweetDeck have been the greatest assets for me as they have literally changed my life and how I get info.

Karen: Great fun working with Julie on the book report for Dan Pink's A Whole New Mind. A completely new way of knowing!

Kay: Greatest impact was value of Twitter for connecting with like-minded people.

Edward: The fact that we all in the class could share ideas using one medium without physically being in one location.

How we've changed…

Steve: I will probably always prefer structure for presenting information and knowledge, but informal learning is now part of the structure I use.

Kay: The informal course format showed me new ways to teach online beyond Blackboard.

Karen: My PLN [personal learning network] has connected me to a wider network, and allowed me to explore and resolve challenges in a more positive way.

Chris: My courses will never be the same. I have a deeper trust in learners to manage their own learning.

How we're applying what we learned…

Steve: I've incorporated informal learning in areas where subject matter is changing fast. I've built new course content using informal technology.

Kay: I am pushing my organization to think beyond one off learning events and incorporate ways to help the learning happen naturally.

Chris: I'm a blogger! I set up a blog about talent management for SMBs for work and created a personal blog to share what I've learned from quilting.

Karen: Every day I use and share what we explored in class…THANKS!

Some final thoughts…

Steve: Informal learning—great way to learn specific definable KSAs. Not sure when mastery is critical. I want my doctor to have a formal education.

Chris: Yeah, and I also hope my doc has a way to stay current w new developments and to confer with others if she's stumped by my symptoms.

Karen: …maybe my doctor will recognize the opportunity to share info about health/safety issues to help me make informed healthcare decisions.

What We Did

We blogged. We kept individual blogs where we shared ideas about the tools used, the people we met, and the ideas that we explored in class. We were able to reflect on what we were learning and then share our thoughts with the group-and comment on each others' reflections. Not only did blogging help each of us understand and organize our learning, it helped us get to know each other at a far deeper level than most other in-person or online classes.

We read. The assigned reading included two textbooks:
  • Cross, J. Working smarter fieldbook. September 2010 edition. Internet Time Alliance, 2010.
  • Shirky, C. Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations. Penguin Book, New York, 2009.

  • We also broke up into small groups for book reports:
  • Godin, S. Tribes: We need you to lead us. Portfolio, New York, 2008.
  • Heath, C. and Heath, D. (2010). Made to stick. Random House, New York, 2010.
  • Pink, D. H. A whole new mind. Penguin Books, New York, 2006.

  • We hobnobbed. We hosted several guest speakers who are considered thought leaders in informal learning. Jane Bozarth, Cammy Bean, Aaron Silvers, and Koreen Olbrish each shared best practices and ideas, and encouraged us to stretch beyond our comfort zone to consider informal learning techniques and technologies in our own practice.

    We explored. We researched new tools and presented our finding to the class, using a Facebook forum that was accessible to group members outside our class. We used Web- and cloud-based tools for creating and sharing presentations, connecting and meeting team members, analyzing and evaluating products and services, and brainstorming and disseminating information. See the "New Tools? How Cool!" listing for more information about the tools we discovered.

    We grew our networks. Before the course, none of us knew what a PLN was. During the course, Twitter served as the backbone of our communication. We signed up, installed TweetDeck and started tweeting. We began to identify and expand our PLNs (personal learning networks) by following people we'd met and learned from along the way.

    The discussion continues. Power to the learners.

    New Tools? How Cool!

    Presentation Tools
    Flickr Photo management/sharing
    FlipSnack Convert PDFs to flipping book
    Jing Screen capture
    Prezi Nonlinear, cloud-based presentations
    Slideboom Upload presentations
    SlideShare Upload presentations
    SpiderScribe Storyboard/brainstorm
    Vimeo Video sharing Graphics/infographics
    Wallwisher Online notice board
    Wordle Create word clouds
    YouTube Video sharing
    Connection Tools
    Blogger Blogging
    Creative Commons http// File creation/sharing
    Facebook Social networking
    Google Plus Social networking
    Google Docs File creation/sharing
    Google Sites Create/share websites
    Pbworks Create/share websites and wikis
    Twitter Microblogging/social networking
    WordPress Blogging
    Yammer Enterprise social networking
    Meeting Tools
    GoToMeeting Online meetings Online meetings (free)
    Skype Internet phone/meetings
    Organization Tools
    Netvibes Dashboard/rss feed management
    TweetDeck Twitter management
    Diigo Bookmarking; note management
    Evernote Note management
    Analytics and Web Surveys
    Doodle Scheduling/polling
    Poll Everywhere Audience response/polling
    SurveyMonkey Online surveys
    Zoomerang Online surveys

    About the Authors

    Christine Hipple has more than 25 years of human resources and training experience and is currently the director of workforce development solutions for Avilar Technologies, providing talent management consultation services to clients in government, nonprofit, and corporate sectors. Previously, Hipple has held leadership and senior training practitioner roles in health care, academia, and government. Her portfolio includes competency-based, pay-for-performance plans, mentoring programs, and competency-based leadership development and selection processes. She's a quilter, literacy tutor, fitness enthusiast and past president of the Maryland ASTD chapter. You can connect with her at [email protected],, or follow @chipple521 on Twitter.

    Karen Mattingly is a project coordinator at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), where in addition to her regular duties, she teaches a student success skills seminar to freshman and transfer students. She has completed professional certificates in instructional design and distance education, and is also a graduate student in the ISD-MA program at UMBC. You can connect with her at [email protected] or follow @KarenMattingly on Twitter.

    © 2012 ACM 1535-394X/12/02 $10.00

    DOI: 10.1145/2157652.2162137


    • There are no comments at this time.