Passionate Learning Starts with the Community Not the Textbook: A Call For Informal Learning

Contributed By

Dylan Rodgers

Content Strategy Manager and Editor in Chief of the Schoology Exchange

Passionate Learning Starts with the Community Not the Textbook: A Call For Informal Learning

Posted in Evolving Ed | April 11, 2014


I recently had the pleasure of joining Robert (Bob) Schuetz and Chris Aviles in an ongoing conversation about, what else, learning. Bob is a veteran educator of 25 years who is nothing short of a philosophical mastermind. Chris brings eight years of experience and a ton of innovative ideas to the table.

Needless to say, their total sense of wonder and passion for learning inspired me greatly. That's why we decided to put our conversation into a blog with the hopes that it will continue with the rest of the Schoology Community. So don't hesitate to jump in it!

The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education. -Albert Einstein

First things first: what exactly is informal learning?

Informal learning is how we learn outside of school. From the moment we wake up to when we fall back into bed (and even while we sleep!) we’re learning new information and skills.

Informal learning often focuses (and rightly so) on practical applications of knowledge in the real world and is essential to our survival in the natural, social, and economic worlds.

Why is informal learning important to you?

Chris: When I was in school, no teacher ever lit a fire under me. I still did well, but I was bored and disengaged. What I was learning didn’t mean anything to me.

I only went to college because that’s what I was told I had to do, and I was woefully unprepared. I had to teach myself things that should have been taught in high school, like how to take notes, study, and deal with disappointment and failure.

Over time, I started to love college and the informal learning I had to do to succeed there. This has carried over into my life and my career. By creating a personal learning network (PLN) via the internet and social media, I’ve learned I am not alone in my feelings toward school.

The people I’ve met, the conversations I’ve had, and the thoughts we’ve shared have made me a better teacher. Now, I hope that passion for learning I discovered so late in life is helping light a fire under my students.

Bob: I completely agree. Personally and professionally speaking, I am reborn as a result of finding purpose and focus with my informal learning. Interactions with my personal learning network (PLN) made me realize that informal learning was more relevant and authentic than what I had experienced in the classroom or forced professional development offerings.

My interest and research in heutagogy and life-­long learning clarified two critical revelations:

  • First, I have been associated with schools and education nearly my entire life, yet I don’t recall anyone taking time to help me learn how to learn.
  • Second, this graphic provided by the US Department of Education alerted me to the fact that we spend 2/3 of our life, or more, learning informally.

These two revelations, combined with my own informal learning experiences made me take pause and realize, "OMG! If we aren’t feeding our students with the passions and the skills needed to maximize their own informal learning, then we are committing the equivalent of medical malpractice!"

Where could I have been with this knowledge? What guidance and wisdom could I have provided my students, athletes, and colleagues with knowing what I know now. Maybe George Bernard Shaw’s old adage is true, "education is wasted on the young.”

You both mentioned your PLCs. How important is it to have a learning community?

Bob: It’s vital! By now, many of us have heard of Malcolm Gladwell and his research suggesting that people can gain a level of expertise or mastery following 10,000 hours of rigorous practice. There are others who claim that Gladwell’s figure is too high.

To put this in context, social technologies provide seemingly unlimited access to experts, enabling anyone with an Internet connection to learn virtually anything. 

Chris: Spot on, Bob! The only thing I know about cars, for example, is that they are expensive to fix. For the last couple years, I’ve started to take my phone out to my garage, pull up a video on how to fix what’s wrong with my car, and fix it myself.

If I have problems, I ask for help on forums and social media. Someone has always helped me_ I’ve yet to meet a problem I can’t teach myself how to fix.

You can’t teach your students everything, nor can you really even begin to know exactly what they’ll need to be successful in the Digital Age. As teachers, we’re trying to prepare them for jobs that don’t even exist yet, so the best thing we can do is teach our students how to teach themselves.

OK. So how do you incorporate informal learning into your classrooms?

Chris: When I sign my kids up for Schoology, I don’t separate them by periods_ all of my English classes are added to one big class grouped together using the grading groups feature. Instead of a class of thirty, they are now a community of ninety. Discussions and projects no longer involve just the kids in one class, they involve all the kids I teach! My students are learning together regardless of where or when I see them!

Sometimes they even learn without me! They ask each other for help and advice. They ask each other to proofread or comment on discussions. They find out who is going to the football game and plan to meet up. They get help for other subjects with their peers. They share their lives with each other and learn that being involved in a community of learning is fun.

What makes Schoology so special isn’t the features_ its the community of learning it builds. Kids begin to understand school stops at 2pm, but education is anytime, anywhere. And they are learning this valuable lesson much earlier than I ever did.

Bob: Absolutely! The most significant impact Schoology has on learning is through the development of learning communities.

Our administrators, coaches, sponsors, teachers, parents, and, of course, our students, appreciate the opportunities to “learn together.” Being able to share learning with authentic audiences raises conscientious effort while contributing to the learning of others.

At Palatine High School, we use Schoology in two key ways. First, Schoology is the digital hub for our PBIS program, called "Commit to the Pirate." Activities, success stories, and helpful reminders are collected and organized in a group that all of our stakeholders have access to.

Secondly, we have recently gamified our professional development efforts in a Schoology course. This strategy is allowing us to differentiate and support professional learning in a fun, engaging way.

Schoology provides a digital pathway to personal and professional relationships. Once they gain momentum, instructors and professional developers assume the role of lead learner and guide students along their path of inquiry and discovery.

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Now It's Your Turn to Join in on the Conversation

How do you teach your students to be life-long learners? Comment below or reach out to us (@Schoology) or directly to Chris Aviles (@TechedUpTeacher) and Robert Schuetz (@robert_schuetz) to keep the conversation going. 

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Meet Robert Schuetz

I am a veteran educator of 23 years, all at Palatine High School in Palatine Illinois. I am a National Board Certified Teacher, and I’ve spent the last 12 years serving as technology coordinator at my school. We are 1:1 with iPads, and we are building our connected learning with Schoology and Google Apps for Education. I am a proponent of self­­-determined, web-­connected learning for all educational stakeholders. 

Twitter: @robert_schuetz


Meet Chris Aviles

I teach sophomore English at Barnegat High School in Barnegat, NJ. I’ve been teaching for eight years, and my class features BYOD, advanced gamification, self-paced mastery, and blending. 

Twitter: @TechedUpTeacher



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