Monthly Archives: December 2009

Informal Learning…resources

Today I bring you some resources on informal learning.  This is rapidly becoming the new paradigm in corporate training and in some areas of formal education.  We independent scholars and homeschoolers have known about this concept all the time.  But it has been well hidden.  Lets see what some other people have to say about it.  Check out what Maria has to say.  She tells us it accounts for about 75% of corporate learning today.

Informal Learning  is a new book by Jay Cross.  Disclaimer… I have no connection to Amazon, Jay Cross or any publisher.  I just like the book.

Informal learning in 10 minutes  YouTube video series of 3 by Jay Cross.

Self-Directed Learning

Informal Learning  Informal learning should no longer be regarded as an inferior form of learning whose main purpose is to act as the precursor of formal learning; it needs to be seen as fundamental, necessary and valuable in its own right, at times directly relevant to employment and at other times not relevant at all. (Coffield 2000: 8)

Formal and Informal Learning According to a three-year study sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor and performed by ASTD (Carnevale, Gainer, & Villet (1990), two out of three workers say that everything they need to know was learned on the job, rather than in the classrooms.


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Inadequate Textbooks, Homeschooling and open education

Recently, I posted an entry on developing custom personal “textbooks” by collecting content from the internet.  I was very gratified when that post was picked up by  When I clicked over to their link I discovered another excellent article titled Illusion of Quality in K-12 textbooks written by Jane Park.  This event was extremely rewarding to me but it was also a perfect example of why I advocate the use of personally developed research oriented material rather than the use of textbook-like materials. 

The publication of my thoughts led me to discover information that provides a more complete foundation for my post. That is at the heart of what occurs in true independent learning.  It also extends the post with new information that I can use to learn along with anyone else who reads it and then follows the links provided.  Another wonderful benefit of this even was that I was introduced to writers working on the same concepts from whom I can extend my reach. 

That is what learning is like in the real world. 

Most often after what we think of as formal schooling we learn far more through the interwoven networks of our real work interactions and real research.  By research I include any and all learning in any field of endeavor from developing skill in a trade to practicing medicine.  All learning should be thought of as a practice. 

All of that post-school learning is motivated intrinsically within us thus it is retained.  I will never forget Jane Parks’ article because my mind was in what I refer to as the “Learning Mindset”.  

The Learning Mindset happens when we are involved in work that has meaning to us.  That is why so many people, if they are honest with themselves, readily admit they remember almost nothing they learned in school except that which they use in their lives. 

An example of the worst found in the thought of education reformers taken right out of the current debate on education can be found in the January 2010 U. S. News and World Report in an article titled “The Extreme School Makeover”.  The article makes the stunning statement that under President Obama’s education proposals seniors “could be expected to solve problems such as – if there are 8 x 10 to the 12th power hydrogen molecules in a volume of 4 x 10 to the 4th power cubic centimeters, what is the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?”   Forgive me for I don’t know how to do superscripts in Wordpress.   To me this immediately begs the question why would the average citizen ever need to know how to figure the average number of hydrogen molecules per cubic centimeter?  And, why would we expect any student not bound for a career in a field in which that arcane problem is useful remember it past the test?  Ask any senior why they need to know that information.  They will answer “I need it for the test”. 

Congratulations the most powerful government on the face of the Earth has labored mightily to lay another rotten egg. 

This is an example of why education is failing.  That question is one constructed by a committee of individuals who sat down to construct the ideal knowledge set to be learned by the ideal student.  They probably asked themselves this inane question as I once did on a similar committee; “what should the high school graduate look like”?  That’s a quote from the task set before the committee on which I served.  That day was one of the turning points in my outlook on how education is done in this country.  

After a while I realized that “the” high school graduate should look nothing like any other high school graduate.  Some will most certainly look like future engineers, chemists or medical doctors.  But others will look like writers, journalists or anchors.  Some will look like diesel mechanics, transmission specialists, entrepreneurs and carpenters.  Others will look like biologists, foresters or any of the untold professions that can be found among human beings.  Further, each graduate will look different because they are not mass-produced objects put together on some obscene human assembly line. 

To look at students any other way is to deny their individuality inherent to each one.  That is why learning materials need to fit the individual rather than some ideal group.

Then the committee, more then likely, set out to brainstorm the things this ideal graduate would be able to “know and do”.   That particular requirement given in U. S News came from some list of abstractions sewn together by such a committee like some Frankensteinian freak.   All such requirements could now  be required of every innocent child born in America .  Absurdity on absurdity.   

Tragically, this is how commercial textbooks are written.  The time to blaze a new trail has long since passed.   Constructing custom resources using the internet is useful for a number of reasons. Very carefully selected and modified commercial materials can also be useful.  But, here are a number of thoughts on why I advocate constructing personal materials.   

  • The information you find using quality sources will be current. 
  • An internet based “textbook” can be changed in a heartbeat.  If something doesn’t work change it.  It isn’t required curriculum.
  • The information you find will be specifically fitted for what you or a child needs now.
  • The information you select will be relevant to what a child or independent learner needs to learn.
  • One thing I did not emphasize in the last post was the value of involving independent learners in the development of the material.  Doing so will increase what is retained because it will be meaningful. 
  • Questions will lead to other questions
  • Intrinsic interest will be high. 
  • As material is discovered and learned neural pathways in the brain will develop due to intrinsic interest.
  • As the materials are discovered new questions will arise opening new pathways.
  • Research skills which are intrinsically useful will be developed in a natural way just as carpenters and machinists can work with fractions as if they were born with the skill.  Those trades use fractions every moment of the day.  They can’t help but learn fractions. 
  • The material will be learned because it is discovered personally and “worked” personally.  It isn’t assigned. 

The simple reason that most of us don’t learn material that is simply assigned, even if we made 100’s on the assignments, was that our minds were not “personally” engaged by it.  We were fulfilling someone elses goal.

We learn the things that are personally meaningful, fit our God-given gifts, fit our God ordained developmental pathways and have meaning to our particular lives. 

I won’t try to outline what Jane Park wrote so well in her article.  Please read Jane Park’s brilliant article for yourself  here.

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The Learning Mind Set

When a child is taught in a traditional way most of the decisions are made for the child.  All the natural power is taken away from him.  The motivation to learn becomes the need to meet the deadline, fulfil the assignment and achieve someone else’s goal for him. 


Force vs Respect

To a teacher this is very much like classroom management.  Teachers who rule by brute force may have very, very quiet classrooms.  But there may not be much learning going on.  And such a teacher will soon learn that they better not turn their back.  The kids are behaving out of fear, not out of ethical conviction of what is right.  The teacher who is able to make the kids realize “why” good behavior and respect is important and useful will have a class that can operate peacefully and often by itself.  And that teacher can turn their backs on the students because the kids have “true” respect for that teacher.  They are behaving because it is the right thing to do. 

The “learning mindset” vs the “programmed mindset”

The same principle works with learning projects.  As long as a child is working “for the teachers goals” she will accomplish the goal but won’t always accomplish the learning.  That is why when a child is told to write a 500 word essay you will often find them counting words without being able to really tell you about what they are writing.  That is what I think of as a “programmed mindset”. 

Contrast that with the “learning mindset”.  To understand the difference just think about a child who is at play with something at any age.  Such a child can go at it for hours without stopping.  That is also true of research scientists, surgeons, woodworkers and writers of blogs.  Those people are doing what they are doing because they are motivated by the joy of what they are doing.  Some call that state of mind flow.  I like to call it the “learning mindset”. 

Strive to establish conditions that lead to the “learning mindset”.  Here are a few ideas that will help do that.

  • Always allow a child choice in what they are going to work on.
  • As far as you can always make the conditions as close to play as possible.
  • Create a problem to solve.  A while back the Harvard Medical School arranged some of its curriculum around the study of real life cases that medical students had to analyze and solve.  Motivation and achievement went way up.
  • Don’t push. Let things develop according to normal human development schedules. Some kids don’t read as soon as others, but they will all be reading at the age of 20.
  • Keep your goals out of it.
  • If something has to be learned, and certain things do, sit down with your child and plan how to accomplish the goal.  Let the child set the schedules and goals. 
  • Let the child determine the way the required material is learned. 
  • Don’t be afraid of using technology to the utmost extent.  Remember these children are natives to technology.  We are the immigrants to technology. 
  • If something doesn’t work, oh well, try it another way.  Never think you or the child has failed because a technique bombed.  Think about how you learn.
  • Above all think about how people learn in the real world.  They learn things when they need to learn them.  That is why so many kids are failing in schools.  They are working on things determined by committee according to some government determined schedule. 
  • Perhaps most important is to remember that we are talking about living, breathing human beings here.  Each one of us learns differently at different rates.  It’s like the old saying of sailors… “don’t spit into the wind”.  Some things just don’t work.  And remember it doesn’t mean anyone has failed.  It just means something didn’t work.

Strive to keep a learning mindset.  Never get too excited about the anxious goals and schedules set by government entities. 

A very interesting take on this concept can be found at  This is a blog called A Penny for My Thoughts and the writer gets it right.

Brian Frank has written another excellent addition to this conversation at

Roger Shank has written a brilliant piece called the “top ten mistakes in education” that is found at  He reminds us that there really is no learning separate from doing. 

He also has a great insight into the uselessness of studying.  

Think for a moment about why medicine is called a “practice”.


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Developing internet Textbooks for home schooling or independent learning

I’ve been a few days since the last post.  My job as a teacher at the end of a semester takes up a lot of time from writing.  But that’s the way it should be.  But I’m back and inspired.

Organizing data….. one of the most useful things a home schooler, or distance learner can do.  There are ever more sophisticated techniques to collect information and organize it. 

Perhaps you or your child is about to take up the study of  weather.  You might want to call your book Internet Weather.  Immediately begin to design your course of study.  I you are like many people you will need some direction to understand exactly what you want to cover or understand what needs to be covered. 

Search for a syllabus for weather on Google or Bing.  You will have several thousand come up.  Now you decide how technical you want to go.  I actually like to use a notebook to list topic headings.  I find cutting and pasting to be something I don’t want to do all day. 

Look for a syllabus or topic arrangement that splits the topics into a logical hierarchy.  As you go through the links from your search look for topics that might have been left out of your first topic list. 

The next thing to do is to start the internet textbook.  Start a page in Word, Publisher, or a Webpage.  Google Documents are wonderful as are other open office suites on the web.  Place your major topic headings in place on the first page of your document.

After you have placed your major topic headings label them as chapters.  Then begin to accumulate links that contain information relevant to the chapter.  As you continue this process you will begin to understand even more what you need to include. 

I have included an example of one on weather that I created as a reference.  This particular one isn’t complete but you will be able to see the process and get the idea.  This really isn’t hard.  And doing this can save you a tremendous amount of money in the long run.  You can choose to leave it on the document as a set of links or print it out.

A Weather Textbook


John J. McGeough
The development of internet self-study resources is going to become an important skill in the future of independent education.  The purpose of this document is to function as an experiment in the development of a personal study textbook. 
      A.  USA Today Fronts
    B. Guide to science of the atmosphere
    C. Time as it is used by weather resources….
        z time
1. Reading weather maps online….
2. Earth’s Atmosphere
    a. Atmospheric density
    b. The Greenhouse Effect
    c.  Earths Atmospheric structure diagram
    d. Earths atmospheric layers explained 
   e.  Earths atmosphere links from eMints
3. The Seasons
    a.      What causes the seasons? 
    b.      Activities for the seasons.
    c.      Another view of the seasons. 
4. Solar and Terrestrial Radiation
    a.    Basics of solar radiations effect on Earth’s weather.
    b.    Solar radiation and the earth’s atmosphere
    c.     NOAA Space Weather and relation to Earth’s weather
5. atmospheric Heat and Temperature
    a.  The Earths atmosphere and heat
    b.  Atmospheric heat
    c.  Methods of heat transfer in the atmosphere
6. Atmospheric Moisture
    a.  Atmospheric moisture and the Earth
7. Atmospheric stability and instability
    a.  Weather and water page
    b.  Atmospheric stability and instability
8. Condensation and precipitation
    a.  Atmospheric condensation and precipitation
     b.  types of precipitation
     c.  Forms of precipitation
9. Atmospheric pressure and wind
    a.  Atmospheric pressure and wind demonstrations
     b.  Atmospheric pressure makes the wind blow
     c.  Air pressure and wind
10.  Global Atmospheric Circulation
        a.  Global atmospheric circulation
           b.  Global atmospheric circulation animation
           c.  Global scale circulation


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