Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Informal learning in everyday practice: getting to know a city and its symbols

What a couple of weeks! Combining formal learning, with speaking at conferences, informal learning and a full time job is just not my idea of great time management. Nevertheless I did order my own agenda, so I can only blame myself for cramping it in such a way that I had to give up blogposting just to keep my mind sane. Barcelona and Bremen were inspiring though.

But I must admit I learned an enormous amount of new stuff, which I will gladly share with you the upcoming weeks. The main topics will be on mobile learning, informal learning, mixed reality, learning theory and new stuff that is worth checking out.

First off: informal learning in everyday practice! Everytime I meet people that are more of the formal learning kind, I get questioned on the benefits of informal learning. They either laugh at the concept (worthwhile learning can hardly be called informal) or the expected result (informal learning is done by kids, yes, but as a grown up we exceed the educational needs of kids. Informal learning just does not give me the specialist edge I need) and so on. I am sure – like many of you - that informal learning builds careers, keeps a knowledge learner on top of her/his field and will result in more visionary ideas and minds than formal learning would.
So I decided that I would make a list of informal learning stuff. A set of posts related to informal learning that everyone is more or less familiar with; starting from simple stuff everyone does, up into what only of few of us do and which work well (or at least for most of the time). Starting of with the one we all know: getting to know a city or new area of the world. You have two choices to explore a new area: formally (you follow a guide) and informally (you rely on people you meet in the street, your own street smarts and your brain). The latter is my preferred travelling method.

Let me call all the immigrants, wanderers and casual visitors of all the cities in the world the new nomads. And as new nomads most of us fall back on informal learning to assimilate and explore the new region we visit or start to live in.

Preparatory work
I am not the bravest of nomads. In fact my friends know I am a neurotic - yet ever curious - traveler. Although I will look up certain details in advance of any mission abroad (google, listening to peers about their encounters in that area …, gathering information adlib); I cannot help but feel an urge to go out and explore it on my own. Basically I will obtain a city map, yet feel too much like the perfect well-oriented city pigeon to use it. I have this idea that if I only glimpse at a map, my memory will guide me across the mazes of any town without any problem (ahum). Who told me how to read a map, I wonder?

Understanding the bigger picture
The architecture of any city is the framework for understanding its atmosphere, priorities and sense of direction. New nomads get around by assimilating buildings and marketing boards or remarkable strangeness that sticks to the mind (at least I do). If you are in a part of the city were there are a lot of suits marching up-beat, you know you strolled right into the business part of town. If the houses and streets get smaller you might be in a artistic area or – when bottles fly around your ears and people ask for hand outs - chances are you wondered off in a less economically strong part of town. As a new nomad you know these areas and you know why you visit them at different parts of the day or during your stay.
For instance, in Barcelona they hang curtains outside on their balcony and not inside the house before the windows as most of my neighbours do in Ghent, Belgium. This makes good sense as it is hotter and by including your balcony you keep the outside air flowing in your house and you increase your living room size.

Building my own translations
Urban planning is the big picture, the hardware, but on a second level you learn about the language that accompanies the architecture. Although more and more regions start to look similar (the down part of globalization), every city does have its own icons and symbols. If you are a lucky nomad, you can read the language that accompanies these symbols. If you are not familiar with the language, the challenge will grow. But with or without language, symbols and icons will guide you wherever you go in a city or what you might expect.
This bus stop sign in Bremen for instance resembles the hospital icon in Antwerp (accept for the colours).

Why would you choose to explore a city informally? Because
  • you will find parts of the city that matter to your interest;
  • you will have to talk to natives;
  • you are human and being lost and finding stuff makes life exciting;
  • you want to use your brain actively and not just follow a sticking-up talking umbrella;
  • visiting a city is not about seeing what needs to be seen, but knowing what the city is all about
  • and of course any reason you have encountered that added to the experience of visiting a new area ...
Anyone have ideas on informal learning in everyday practice?