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Blogging for Informal Learning: Analyzing Bloggers’ Perceptions Using Learning Perspective (Part 1)

  This study intends to explore blogs as a meaningful environment for informal adult learning. A blog, an individually maintained web page, has been a social phenomenon for the last decade (Boyd & Ellison, 2007). As the latest development in web-based technology, the functions of blogs vary. They can be online personal journals (Wang & Hsua 2008), Web-based media facilitating communication and interaction with other bloggers (Godwin-Jones, 2003), or interactive knowledge-exchange tools (Herring et al., 2005). Blogs also can capitalize on the strength of authentic writing, the power of the writing process, and the engagement of collaborative writing (Boling, Castek, Zawilinski, Barton, & Nierlich, 2008). Today, more people are reading and keeping blogs. For example, as of March 2008, 184 million worldwide users have started a blog while 26.4 millions uses in US; 346 millions worldwide users read blogs while 60.3 millions in US (Winn, 2008). Since it does not require any specific programming skills such as writing HTML codes, this technology-enabled online space now seems to have gained world-wide popularity by making it easier to search and collect documents, share thoughts in an open public space, and contribute to

  Blogs have been studied on various aspects in different disciplines, for example, blogging for marketing in business sectors (Singh & Singh, 2008; Wright & Crossland, 2006) and blogging for expressing and sharing their political voices with explicit intention to influence others in political sector (Coleman & Wright, 2008; Francoli & Ward, 2008; Wright, 2008).

  The question now is: Can this new form of people’s expression be used effectively for education and learning? We argue in the remainder of this paper that the chances are high. First, several studies indicate that the features of blogsare used for educational purposes, particularly for various kinds of classroom instruction (Boling, et al., 2008; Glass& Spiegelman, 2008; Haramiak, Boulton, & Irwin, 2009; Kajder & Bull, 2004; Martindale & Wiley, 2005; Quible, 2005; Ray, 2006; Wassell & Crouch, 2008). Researchers argue that blogging is an effective instructionaltool inwhich instructors and students can communicate with each other to discuss issues raised in class. For example, college faculty members can use blogs as teaching and learning aids in a higher-education context (Glass & Spiegelman, 2008; Martindale & Wiley, 2005; Quible, 2005); and students can demonstrate their projects on blogs (Overby, 2009; Ray, 2006). K-12 teachers can use blogs to help their students reflect on their own thoughts (Kajder & Bull, 2004) while pre-service teachers or student teachers can utilize blogs for their own professional development (Haramiak, Boulton, & Irwin, 2009; Wassell & Crouch, 2008).

 While the studies addressed above have argued the usefulness of using blogs for educational purposes in which teachers actively lead for effective learning, their self-directed use by bloggers and its embedded meaning for effective learning remains an area of exploration. Also, less research has been conducted to explore blogs as a newly emerging space where learners can benefit informally.

  This study, therefore, aims to explore the nature of adults’ blogging and its effectiveness in terms of their everyday learning. It investigates the reasons for adult bloggers’ use of blog, their conception of learning, and the interpretations of the linkage between their blogging and learning. Therefore, the research questions were:
  • Which experiences do the adult bloggers perceive conducive to learning?
  • What are the potential uses of blogs for learning in relation to the perspectives of adult learning processes?
  • What are the characteristics of adult informal learning through blogging compared to the formal education in
  • school?

Theoretical Framework

  Characteristics of Adult Informal Learning To respond to the accelerated changes in the world and the increasing and diversified demands of society, lifelong learning has been considered not something extra but something required and essential. Since adult learning has become a major part of lifelong learning discussions in recent decades (OECD, 1996), contemporary adults have been encouraged to find learning opportunities in diverse places including home, educational institutions, workplace, community, and even cyberspace (Kwon, 2001).

  Unlike children or adolescents who generally learn in formal educational settings such as schools, adults learn in more diverse and flexible settings and may learn significantly more in incidental and spontaneous learning situations than in educational settings. Adults also learn without any direct reliance on teacher or instructors, sometimes learning through serendipity. These cases correspond to informal learning (Marsick & Watkins, 2001). In a broader sense, informal learning includes everyday experiences from which we learn something (Merriam & Cafarrella, 1999).

  Informal learning has great flexibility allowing people to gain knowledge without instructors and externally imposed curricular criteria (Livingstone, 2001). With less restriction, it can be more learner-centered and learners can decide for themselves important things they want to learn.

  This flexibility is favored by many adult learners. Empirical studies regarding adult informal learning show that the overwhelming majority of adults spend substantial time in the pursuit of informal learning (Johnstone & Rivera, 1965; Livingstone, 2001; Tough, 1971, 1978). For example, Tough’s study found that more than two-thirds of adults’ intentional learning occurred outside schools or educational institutions (Tough, 1971). According to these findings, informal learning can well be defined as one of the important and predominant forms of learning in adult lives.

  Informal learning, however, has not yet been investigated fully due to its broad definition. Some of it is conducted by agency, the learner, obviously intentionally. Much of it, however, is hard to distinguish from life experiences since it occurs in everyday life. Indeed, it often is viewed as an “iceberg” phenomenon (Brockett & Hiemstra, 1991; Brookfield, 1981) since so much of it is invisible and easy to underestimate. Whether visible or invisible, few studies have been conducted on how effectively informal learning enriches adults with tangible learning outcomes (Livingstone, 2001; 2002).

  Researchers have attempted to classify informal learning to deal with it in more manageable ways. Even though some researchers often use informal learning and self-directed learning as interchangeable terms, many agree that informal learning includes more than the self-directed one shown above. According to Schugurensky (2000), informal learning can take different forms due to the presence or absence of intentionality and awareness of learning.

  He defines informal learning in three forms - self-directed learning, incidental learning, and socialization.

In Schugurensky’s classification, self-directed learning refers to 'learning projects' undertaken by individual learners. Since adults are believed to be self-directed in nature, or the contemporary world encourages learners to be more self-directed, adults pursue more and more self-directed learning opportunities, not fixed and full-time but open and flexible. Such informal learning is intentional because the learner intends to learn something before the learning process starts. It also is a conscious process in that the learner is aware of the learning when it happens. Incidental learning, in contrast, refers to the learning experiences that occur when the learner may not intend to learn something. After the experience, however, she or he becomes aware of it.  Thus, it is an unintentional but conscious process.

  Socialization, also called tacit learning, refers to the internalization of values, attitudes, behaviors, or skills that occur in everyday life. The concept of socialization as a type of informal learning is very hard to research since it is neither intended nor perceived by the learner. Therefore, this study does not discuss socialization or tacit learning despite its significant value in adult informal learning.

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