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Blogging for Informal Learning: Analyzing Bloggers’ Perceptions Using Learning Perspective (Part 2)

Processes of Adult Informal Learning

  Adult informal learning, either self-directed or incidental, follows different processes with different outcomes. No single theory of learning comprehensibly explains these various learning processes. Many learning theories have contributed to this discussion and offered unique and valuable perspectives on the process of adult learning (Mitchell & Livingstone, 2002). For example, adult learning not only includes the acquisition and accumulation of information, but also embraces “making sense of our lives, transforming not just what we learn but the way we learn, and it is absorbing, imagining, intuiting, and learning informally with others” (Merriam, 2001, p. 96). It also engenders certain identities and belongingness to adult learners (Merriam, Courtenay, & Baumgartner, 2003) while it brings total changes to the agency and the related objects (Law, 1992).

  To address the adult informal learning processes and outcomes through blogging, this study depends on Fenwick and Tennant’s (2004) categorization of adult learning, which, according to them, can be viewed from four different perspectives: (a) an acquisition process, (b) a reflection process, (c) a practice-based community process, and (d) an embodied co-emergent process.

  First, “learning as acquisition” understands knowledge as a substantive skill or competency, concept, or new language that a learner can acquire. Fenwick and Tennant illustrate that the acquisition is related to “how mental information processing occurs and how cognitive structures develop and change” (Fenwick & Tennant, 2004, p. 57). Not only knowledge contents but also strategies or skills to develop new knowledge can be acquired.

  Second, learning involves a reflection process. “Learning as reflection” interprets learning as a meaning-making process. This kind of learning often brings transformative outcomes that can lead learners to challenge and transform their assumptions and values (Mezirow, 1991; Schugurensky, 2000). As learners interpret what they sense, depending on the aspects of personal interests or familiarity, they transform the existing knowledge or even construct new and/or unique ones. This means that, for example, each blogger will most likely construct a very different understanding of what he or she reads on the same blogging site. Although all adults are exposed to a myriad of experiences, not everyone learns the same from them. Learning happens “only when there is reflective thought” (Fenwick & Tennant, 2004, p. 60).

  Third, learning can also be viewed as a social activity embedded in authentic social relations. The concept of
community of practice (in abbreviation, CoP) explains that any group of individuals collaborates to pursue shared goals and works. Lave and Wenger (1991) argue that individuals learn as they participate by interacting with the community (with its history, assumptions and cultural values, rules and patterns of relationship), the tools at hand (including objects, technology, languages and images), and the moment's activity. They learn and form certain identity after this process.

  The fourth perspective views adult learning as a co-emergent process. This perspective criticizes the view of learning as participation in a community of practice because it still separates individuals from group, humans from environment, subject from object (Fenwick & Tennant, 2004). The co-emergent process is, in contrast, a holistic perspective on learning processes. That is, it is not limited to the state that individuals and communities learn something from something somewhere. Rather, the learning systems and human beings co-adapt, organize and transform interactions to create new forms of knowledge and the learning systems. Overall, learning is a highly complex process in which the individual’s cognitive and social dimensions of learning are co-emergently achieved through interactions with the knowledge system, and the outcome is the fundamental change for the both, the learning systems and human beings.

  The meaning of this classification of adult learning in terms of its process can be connected to the issue that this study focuses on - adult informal learning. First, acquisition of knowledge is necessary for learners at all age levels; but its significance cannot be too overemphasized for adults in these days when lifelong learning such as continuous job-related training has become the norm. Second, learning through meaning-making or reflection is more meaningful for adults in that it reconstructs the meaning of existing experiences, which adults are assumed to accumulate more than children or adolescents throughout the years of their lives. Third, as adults are involved with various communities, it is important for them to gain appropriate identities related to these communities. Learning through community-based processes is therefore important to adults whose relationships and interactions within a community play important roles for their careers and personal lives.

  Lastly, considered a part of complex learning systems, adults develop through continuous interaction with people and objects around them, which in turn affect and advance the whole systems.
Thus, adult informal learning often takes place in adults’ everyday lives and is quite valuable. In this study, various scholarly definitions and classifications regarding adult informal learning are used to conceptualize the meaning of blogging as adult informal learning. Schugurensky (2000)’s categorization of informal learning helps to formulate an argument that blogging can facilitate either self-directed learning, incidental learning, or socialization depending on whether there is intention or awareness. By using Fenwick and Tennant (2004)’s categorization, blogging activities are to be understood as learning activities that require uniquely different processes to yield various outcomes of learning such as acquisition of knowledge, reflection of experience, formation of identity by participation, and coemergent change of both learners and the system.

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