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June 12, 2006

Comments

Alex Osterwalder

The "hole-in-the-wall" project from India is quite an interesting example of informal learning - in this case of Indian street kids.

"A freely accessible computer was put up for use through a hole in the wall. This computer proved to be an instant hit among the slum dwellers, especially the children. With no prior experience, the children learnt to use the computer on their own..."

http://www.hole-in-the-wall.com/Beginnings.html

Worth checking out! Warm regards from Lausanne, Switzerland, Alex

Don Steiny

It is always interesting to read comments like this and notice that there are many people who are not aware that research in social networks started in the 30's and started a revolution in the social sciences that is growing, not shrinking.

One of the things about social networks is the way the create boundaries where stories, gossip, whatever become part of the phenomenal experience of its adherants. Thus, we are in a situation where the new use of the term "social networks" probably makes it difficult to realize that the term means something totally different in the more traditional sense.

Some people have suggested that the existing field call it something different because they are surprised that the field exists and it appears so marginal to them that we should change the name, when in fact, it is central to whole parts of sociology, new economic modeling, linguistics and much more.

It is often the case that words have more than one meaning.

I started using e-mail, ftp and telnet in 1979 and many of the social networks I am part of have used TCP/IP based communications methods for over 25 years. Creating glorified leads clubs has not yet, and probably will never make much of a dent in how most people view themselves. There are other factors as well, better transportation, the ubiquity of English as a trade language, cargo containers and countless other things that change our accountings of our experience.

I hope if you find time, you might look into social networks in the more establisehd sense. There are two journals in the field, Social Networks and Connections. I bring this up because for me personally this "social networking" stuff is a big yawn. There is way more that is going on that is really exciting and I encourage people to check it out.

http://www.isnae.org

Sally Quiroz

Two things come to mind: first, ongoing learning in many different types of communities is crucial and libraries can indeed be key players in providing access to informal learning experiences. This may be particularly important for a group of learners that is often overlooked, the mature adult who for whatever reason is not engaged in formal personal or professional development. Many in this group lack the up-to-date computer skills required to pursue the kinds of informal learning experiences described here. Children and even adolescents seen to have the tendency to just “pick up” computer skills much the way they do language. For older adults, however, this is not the case. Learning the skills necessary to engage in many of the informal learning opportunities available today requires a more sophisticated level of computer skill and information literacy that they only acquire through both guided and individual practice.

I am currently coordinating a volunteer program in a public library that provides guided instruction in computer skills to public library patrons. By far the majority of the participants in the program are either retired or approaching retirement age. Many of them come to the workshops with little or no computer skills. I recently taught several couples who had never picked up a mouse before. It has been very encouraging to see their progress as they gain the confidence in their own skills needed to venture out and explore some of the learning opportunities you have described.

Sometimes we think that by just providing access to the myriad opportunities we have through the Web we have done enough while we fail to realize that there are some very real barriers that keep people from taking advantage of those opportunities, barriers like: access to computer equipment, Internet access, and access to the skills to make effective use of them. We take the horse to water and wonder why he doesn’t drink when in reality his head has been restrained and he can’t reach the water!

My second thought is, how do we validate informal learning. I’m getting ready to finish my Master’s Degree because that is what required for the positions to which I aspire. The directors who will be interviewing me are going to look for that credential on my resume and not my level of achievement as Guild Master in the World of Warcraft!

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