Following up on my work with mobile learning and mobile computing devices, I’m proud to announce that I will have a new book chapter coming out soon. Here’s the title and abstract info.

Using Mobile Devices to Support Formal, Informal & Semi-formal Learning
Uses and Implications for Teaching & Learning


Mobile devices are ubiquitous. They are often invisible to accomplish our everyday tasks and learning goals. This chapter explains how individuals learn using mobile devices during their daily lives—within K-12 schools, higher education, and outside of educational institutions altogether—with specific attention to STEAM disciplines. First, brief definitions of mobile devices and mobile learning are presented, then types of learning, i.e. formal, informal, and semi-formal, are discussed. Next, seven categories describe how mobile devices have been used for teaching and learning with examples as appropriate from STEAM disciplines: (a) increasing access to student information and campus resources, (b) increasing interaction with learning contents, (c) creating representations of knowledge, (d) augmenting face-to-face instruction, (e) supporting performance and decision-making, (f) enabling personalized learning, and (g) deploying instruction. Finally, five implications for employing mobile devices for teaching and learning are discussed.

Our chapter is part of a book titled, Full steam ahead: Emerging technologies for STEAM edited by Xun Ge, Mike Spector & Dirk Ifenthaler. If you would like to have a preprint copy of the chapter, just let me know.  It’s still in production right now.

Many instructional arrangements seem “contrived,” but there is nothing wrong with that. It is the teacher’s function to contrive conditions under which students learn. It has always been the task of formal education to set up behavior which would prove useful or enjoyable later in a student’s life.

— B.F. Skinner (


I feel that informal learning plays an important part in my personal development, but still I hold the notion that informal learning cannot completely replace formal learning. Here are three of the reasons why.


Informal learning is not suitable for all kind of learners. Though Jay Cross is a big proponent of informal learning, he mentions in his blog that “novices learn best through formal learning, for it provides the structure, signposts, and scaffolding a newby lacks.” Being a student myself, it is sometimes hard for me to filter valuable information from the vast available resources. In such an environment, formal education through coaching and active feedback provides me with the capacity to further educate myself. Carmen in her blog “Formal Learning is here to stay” backs up on the reason for such behavior by explaining it in context of lack of prior knowledge (schemata), and cognitive load. Flora, Jane and Paul in their presentation try to explore which form of learning is preferable and explains with the help of a matrix that people who have more autonomy over learning would benefit from informal learning whereas formal learning is for those who have less self control over learning.

Accountability & Quality

Formal learning would be preferred when there would be no scope for trial & errors, meet certain standards, and have to be 100% accurate. Karl Kapp in his blog discusses examples where formal education would be most effective. He says “Without formal training if someone does something right, it is most likely by chance” and in high risk environments there is no room for chance. Formal learning would also be preferred in an environment where there needs to be quality mass production of certain product or services in a restricted time. The best example that is coming to my mind right now is the training of American soldiers during WWII.

With the new emerging policies and procedures, where effort is being made to help students to prepare for a future that does not exist yet, is commitment and responsibility involved with formal learning. Also, today formal learning opportunities are provided in such authentic environments that it would be hard to believe that it is still the 70/20/10 principle. Don Clark in his website discusses the importance of both formal & informal learning and is of the opinion that “informal learning should NOT replace formal learning activities as it is this synergy that produces effective growth”


Clark, D. (2010). The true cost of informal learning. Retrieved from:

Clark, D. (2010). Knowledge jump. Retrieved from:

Cross, J. (2005). To everything, turn, turn, turn, there is a season. Retrieved from:

Informal Learning. Retrieved from:

Kapp, K. (2010). Formal learning all the way…baby. Retrieved from:

Learning. Retrieved from:

Weaver, C. (2010). Formal learning is here to stay. Retrieved from:

Guest Blogger

Smita Jain is a doctoral student in the department of Instructional Design and Technology at the University of Memphis. She assists faculty in designing online courses for the department of Health and Sport Sciences. She enjoys her work very much as it is also her area of interest- Online/Web based teaching and learning. She has tutored middle school children and helped pre-service teachers to prepare them to integrate technology in their classrooms. After completing her degree she wants to become a faculty, researcher and consultant in the field of Instructional Design and Technology.

Image courtesy of Mully Children’s Family at

Guest Blogger PostInformal learning is important. It accounts for how we learned much of what we know: experience. However, it should not and will not replace formal learning. As more emphasis is being put on constructivist methods and social learning, it is important not to deemphasize the role that formal learning plays.

Some tasks are best taught through formal learning. These tasks have low complexity, require low autonomy, are standardized, are highly specific or routine, or may be time sensitive. For example, Flora McDora created a slideshare to emphasize this point. You can view it here: Informal v Formal Learning. Kirschner, Sweller, and Clark (2006) also state that when dealing with new information, learners need to be specifically shown what to do. On his Informal Learning Blog, Jay Cross posits that novices learn more through formal instruction and that formal learning is best for explicit knowledge. This may be attributed to cognitive load theory. A trial-and-error approach without any form of guidance can result in a heavy load on working memory. This is particularly true for novice learners who may lack the proper schemas to integrate the new knowledge with prior knowledge (Kirschner, et all, 2006). In fact, novice learners may not have the prior knowledge to integrate new knowledge with. Mayer (2004) addresses this further with the assertion that guided discovery is necessary to activate knowledge to make sense of new knowledge and to integrate new knowledge with prior knowledge. He further suggests that left to their own devices, learners may never encounter the objective material.

Sometimes, the need for formal learning is based on practicality. People need to perform a certain way every time and there is no room for mistake. Period. Think about an assembly line making brakes for your car or a new surgical procedure. Do you want the guy making your brakes or the doctor performing your surgery to have learned in a formal environment or through experimenting and trial-and-error.  In his blog, The Pursuing Performance Blog, Guy Wallace provides a witty look into The Research Evidence Against Informal Learning.

He asks,IF informal learning DOES account for 80% or more of “how kids learn about sex” – does that make IT the approach to actively support?” (para. 3). While the shock value of the statement is what caught my eye, it certainly resonates with the theme of practicality.

It is also important to note that informal learning should not be considered a replacement for formal learning. Formal and informal learning are complementary (Cofer, 2000). They work together. Clark (2007) points out that a lot of informal learning would fail to occur without formal learning programs. In this vein, I would like to leave you with a quote from Cross (2010), “When you dig down into the details, you’ll find that all learning is part formal and part informal. The only thing worth discussing is the degree of formality or informality, for it’s never either/or.” (para. 13).


Clark, D. R. (2007). Formal and informal learning. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from

Cofer, D. (2000). Informal workplace learning. Practice Application Brief. NO 10. U.S. Department of Education: Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.

Cross, J. (2010). Where did the 80% come from? Informal Learning Blog. Retrieved Febraury 9, 2010 from

Kirschner, P. A., Sweller, J., & Clark, R. E. (2006). Why minimal guidance during instruction does not work: An analysis of the failure of constructivist, discovery, problem-based, experiential, and inquiry-based teaching. Educational Psychologist, 41(2), 75-86.

Mayer, R. E. (2004). Should there be a three-strikes rule against pure discovery learning?: The case for guided methods of instruction. The American Psychologist, 59(1), 14-19.

McDora, F.  (2009). Formal v informal learning. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from

Wallace, G. (2007). The research evidence against informal learning. Retrieved February 9, 2010 from

Guest Blogger: Carmen Weaver is the project manager for the TLINC grant at the University of Memphis. She also teaches technology integration to undergraduate education majors at the University. Carmen has a background in Computer Information Systems as well as Secondary Education. She is a doctoral student in Instructional Design and Technology.

Just this morning, I received an email update fro Jane Hart at the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies in the UK.  Jane’s blog “Jane’s E-Learning Pick of the Day” is one I look forward to each day, because I get a single new tool to consider for elearning.  I encourage you to check it out.  Since my Technology Tools to Support Learning course is discussing elearning now, I thought sharing Jane’s blog, an international perspective, and her post for today would be a great opportunity.

In Jane’s email update, she writes:

I have just completed a short article for the November edition of e.learning age magazine.

e.learning age is the UK’s number one media resource for the e-learning community.  The magazine is the only one if its kind for anyone involved in the e-learning industry – from board directors responsible for skilling the workforce, to training and HR professionals choosing and implementing the best systems, to vendors who want to find out the latest news and trends in the industry.

In Jane’s post for today, she presents 10 tools that appear to be worthy of carrying into 2010.  These tools were compiled from Jane’s list of Top 10 Tools for Learning, where elearning professionals list and rank their top 10 tools for learning.  Then Jane is able to build an annual Top 100 Tool for Learning list.  The ones for today overlap both formal learning and informal learning opportunities.  So, it will be interesting to see how these continue to support one another — if at all.

Here is Jane’s Top 10 list:

  1. Prezi
  2. Evernote
  3. dimdim
  4. Etherpad
  5. udutu
  6. Screenr
  7. Posterous
  8. Yammer
  9. Wordle
  10. Flip video

Your turn

Now, I’m not going to give you all the details here, because I want you to go visit Jane’s  page for today.  So, do you know about these?  Are there tools that you use?  Are there tools that you’ve never heard of but would like to use?  Are there ones that are similar to tools that you use personally or professionally now?  Let me know.  Put your comments into the box below.

Paul Ayers

Paul Ayers

by Paul Ayers

Let’s consider for a moment a formal definition put forth by Alan J. Cann for Personal Learning Environments (PLEs).  A PLE is:

a system that helps learners take control of and manage their own learning. This includes providing support for learners to set their own learning goals, manage their learning, manage both content and process, and communicate with others in the process of learning.

Graham Attwell also makes a strong case for PLEs in his article in his article “Personal Learning Environments – the future of eLearning?

Both Cann and  Attwell caused me to begin reflecting on the tools and activities I use to learn and demonstrate my learning, from working within my university’s LMS to using Web 2.0 tools like Wikipedia and Flickr to an old-fashioned Google search. It occurred to me everything I use to assist me daily with formal and informal learning pretty much meets the definition set above. But there also seems to be a gap. The ease and tools with which to share my learning are not as readily apparent.
Here is my take on it. We are close, but not there. We are more capable than ever of finding information and acquiring new knowledge, but how are we doing with the “reflecting on it and doing something with it” part? Do most learners really want to control their learning environment and to demonstrate knowledge acquisition to the degree a PLE might offer?

Ok…I’ll admit it…I am thrilled by the idea of a designed PLE to support learners, but I am also convinced it may not be the end-all-be-all solution to learning ownership. In an increasingly knowledge-driven society, we have to be aware of the probability that some learners aren’t as interested in showing what they know, but just knowing. The PLE of the future must make reflection upon and demonstration of knowledge as easy as acquisition. Otherwise, we may only be talking about Google 2.0.

Guest blogger: Paul Ayers holds a Master’s of Business Administration in Management and is a currently a doctoral student in the University of Memphis’ Department of Instruction and Curriculum Leadership. His research interests include e-learning applications higher education settings, hybrid learning environments, and instructional design. Paul currently works with International Paper as a contract instructional designer, where he is developing e-learning solutions with subject matter experts in the Environment, Health and Safety division. In his spare time, Paul enjoys spending time with his family and home renovation.

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