What we learn is 80% informal and 20% formal (on the job)
For several years Jay Cross (building on previous research) has been providing evidence that informal learning makes up around 80% of on the job learning (depending on the research this figure can vary a bit, nevertheless it does mean: the majority of what is learned comes from informal learning). Now, this fact has been resonating in my brain for a couple of weeks, for this means that not one single course or curriculum will ever cover all the learning we need/do. I did think: well on-the-job learning is not the same as learning overall, but then I could not make that statement hard, as for me, learning is related to what I want to do, so in a way it is always related to my professional interest.
And as such learning needs to be traced to cover full informal learning. And that means learning/learner analytics needs to go beyond the MOOC realm, beyond the belly button of any online course offered. Having data coming from MOOC is one thing, having data that comes from the learner and her/his actions would probably bring us closer to actual learning (the learner is always right?). In a way cMOOC offered this opportunity (a bit on cMOOC and xMOOC here), as they tend to ask learners to build objects coming from their own informal learning that happened during the MOOC (e.g. share blogpost, share resources, share insights into their networks). But as cMOOCs are less in the research picture (or so it seems), some gaps related to informal learning become more visible.
Where is the informal learning/learner data from MOOC?
When I screen MOOC research, most of it focuses on learning analytics coming from MOOC's internal learning data. But maybe I am missing current research that also looks at informal learning that happens outside of the MOOCs, but is in fact related to the MOOC topic or resulting topics (if you know of such research, feel free to share, I will be grateful and read it with pleasure). And to me that leaves a gap for informal learning that is taking place, but is not (yet) researched. And with informal learning, a whole variety of learning dynamics comes into place: ranging from objects to people, from face-to-face (partners) to online experts linked through an online network, from professional learning need to immersion into a new field of personal interest.
One could ask whether a MOOC is a formal or informal learning course. In a way MOOC can also be seen as informal learning for those not joining a MOOC for certification. Or people join it simply because the subject adds something to their personal interest. But still, there is something in this current MOOC research equation that strikes me as missing the novelty of learners and learning that comes along with MOOCs.
Two nice research options I can see related to informal learning and MOOC (or any online options)
As I am plotting my research interest (main study), some topics come to mind that do involve MOOCs, but where I would like to see an additional viewpoint:
Lifelong learning for the 30 onward learner. Why does the majority of research focus on MOOC for higher ed? If we know that the working force is becoming older, the retirement age will most probably have to be raised, and informal learning is crucial in this knowledge age ... then MOOC research should focus on lifelong learning, informal learning, ... all of these subjects to get some insights in adult learning behavior and potential guidelines to enhance learning for those populations at risk (the older working force) - of course higher ed is a market, a market that thrives on parents hoping their children will get a nicer future and as such a ready to invest heavily in it. Nevertheless, when screening unemployment, it does look as though universities do not deliver the right set of skills/capacities for graduates to get a job. There is a counter action taking place, with entrepreneurial schools popping up in a lot of regions, but then again those highlight a specific, economy driven set of jobs (and taking diversity and creativity into consideration, those jobs are not necessarily fitting all of us).
Informal learning in mixed online/IRL settings. MOOCs are here now, but they are not exactly new in the sense that they build upon what was there (online learning) and they grew to embrace the globe due to wireless infrastructure being put into place. So, it would only be logical that they will be pushed aside by other learning formats, equally online. The same can be said about mobile learning, which will be absorbed in overall, technology enhanced learning. But there is an interesting difference at present between mooc and mobile learning, interesting enough mobile learning focuses much more on informal learning (learning outside of what is offered) then MOOC learning (which is directly related to the different starting point of both innovative learning strands: MOOCs online learning building upon eLearning delivered via universities; mobile learning coming from finding contextualized solutions for vulnerable learner groups that are provided specific content, discussions, and opportunities to improve their lives. So to me it makes perfect sense that future learners will make a learning collage of everything that is available and mold it into something they feel they need or want to know. This means that each learner makes their own learning landscape, a personal learning journey. Which in turn means that interactions and learning happens on many different levels, and informal skills and capacities are essential for making a success of that personal learning journey.
So here it goes: for my main study I will focus on informal learning inside MOOCs (it is my PhD, I will do it), looking at crossing devices, looking at individual/collaborative learning and solutions learners come up with for their self-determined learning (yes, getting heutagogy into my mix).
On a sideline, a potentially for my personal interest research I might start setting up a research project that looks at how experts AND grassroots successful learners (e.g. those learners that have a starting position from which you would think: they are not going to make it into the 'normal' world) grow towards professional/personal success.
I will not share the other project that keeps knocking on my mental door, asking to be realized, but for which I know it will take up so much time, and as such I keep pushing it forward.