Entry #3: Informal Digital Learning

photos-pendingUpdate:  Latest ah-ha resulting from a few moments of diffuse mode brain activity.  This journal entry essentially describes what I was trying to characterize as informal learning.  However, I realize now that what I do is try to turn informal online learning into formal learning — at least when it comes to learning a large and complicated program like Photoshop.  Yet we’ve just spent the last week discussing the power of informal learning.  So now I’m wondering how I might reframe my Photoshop sessions such that I emphasize the most effective aspects of informal learning and trusting that the dynamics of informal contexts will be just as powerful as formal contexts — if not more so.  Now I’m not so sure you need to read the rest of my typically TLDR journal post.  But skip to the end to see my friend, Hope!  wink_emoji

Looking ahead at the metacognitive journal assignments, it seems the next few entries will continue to explore my thinking about becoming a better photographer.  I’ve never thought about where I do the bulk of my informal learning.  Though it seems my photography is where I focus.  At first, this realization draws a red flag.  Why am I not spending the same amount of time in informal learning for my profession?  Isn’t it crucial as an educator to keep learning?  Setting aside questions of work/life balance and the fact that my personal interests are just as worthy of time spent learning as my professional interests, I do allocate quite a bit of time for informal professional learning as well.  Though if pressed, I would probably say I spend more time in formal learning contexts than informal contexts for my professional self.  But that’s the stuff of another entry.

When it comes to online learning, I am an extremely critical learner due to the fact that I used to deliver regular webinars for several years. Consequently, I have a very low tolerance for poorly designed and/or poorly executed web-based learning.  And there are a lot of bad webinars out there that ought to be much better regardless of whether they are paid or free.  Luckily, I’ve found some very good online resources in the world of photography.

Upon reflection, I notice I go searching for learning materials when there is a discrete photographic skill I’m looking to develop at a particular moment.  Recently, for instance, I have wanted to explore macro photography.  After purchasing and playing with a fantastic macro lens, I then went right to my primary online photography subscription, Digital Photography School (DPS).  So I’d say learning individual skills seem to drive my online learning as a photographer.  As an adult learner, this makes sense.  The learning is done very much in the moment I want or need it.  It’s immediately applicable in my work which makes it relevant.  I’m making 100% of the choices about what, where, when and how I learn the material.  What I appreciate about DPS as well is that it is a rich community of learners (even though I don’t think they’d describe themselves in that way).  The comment sections of the articles turn into forums for photo sharing, discussion, questioning and critique.  So feedback is interactive, quick and useful.

Another online source I’ve used is Phlearn.  This site is a phenomenal resource for learning all things Photoshop.  While I don’t spend much time using PS, it is something that comes in handy when I’ve taken a picture that cannot be sufficiently developed or corrected in Lightroom.  But the learning curve on PS, for full-on fluency is around 100 hours and I am being very complimentary even calling myself a novice.  Phlearn is not free and is not inexpensive.  However, both the video tutorials the the instruction are very high quality.

Neither DPS nor Phlearn offer live webinars, which makes sense given the subject matter.  (Though could be a cool thing to try online!)  So all learning is independent and self-paced.  To ensure I kept up with this learning, I spent real money for Photoshop courses 101, 201, & 301. That’s twelve modules. I figured throwing my Visa at it would put some real skin in the game.  Yet I still find it challenging to prioritize and protect the same kind of time and effort these tutorials require.  Clearly, I’m more likely to apply consistent effort to deep, complex learning like this when it’s a “live” event, where there are regular and required interactions with assignments, the curriculum, the instructor, other learners.  I’d say that’s the main difference when it comes to complex, conceptual learning compared to learning discrete skills.  The latter I can easily do with a click-and-read online.  The former requires much more constructive pressure to persist.

Comparing the online learning design described above to non-digital experiences, the greatest differences are in environment, process, pace, interactions and affect.  The environment is can be just about anywhere I have an internet connection.  I’ve watched all of the Phlearn tutorials at home where I can more easily manipulate practice materials.  However, I’ve watched some of their free Youtube content while on the train or at the in-laws’.  The same is true of DPS articles.  They make for great reading on the train — especially with my phone or DSLR in hand.  With this subject matter I can take the tutorials where the photographic subjects are and practice on the spot.  Processes are determined by what I want to learn and practice at the moment.  This is different from non-digital learning where goals and assignments are usually determined and set by the instructor.  Interactions are limited to those with the computer as none of these are live events.  Though the comment sections of DPS will bring some interaction with others in the community, though not in real-time.  In terms of participant affect, I find I get very excited on either platform when I’ve actually learned something conceptually, not just mimicked an outcome.  When I “get it” and can apply the skill or technique with my camera or software in a particular context.  Posting on DPS comments almost always comes with some anxiety.  Trolls can be obnoxious.  But when people are generous in their feedback and kind in their tone, I feel very affirmed and motivated to keep working, to keep growing, to keep participating.

There’s more photography and metacognition on Youtube.  Enjoy!

Entry #2: Informal Learning Context

I’m one of those people who just doesn’t feel legit about something unless I’ve taken a class or read a book about it.  This is especially so when it comes to my photography, even though  photography is one of those things that you really do get better at the more you practice.  Your eye develops.  You get the hang of balancing ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to control light and depth of field.  Knowing when to use a manual shooting mode or more automated settings.  Plus, the feedback is instant now with digital cameras and social media.

For the last year or so, I’ve been wanting to develop my abilities for street photography.  One small obstacle:  I feel very uncomfortable taking pictures of strangers.   So to get a better understanding and more comfortable with the style, I signed up for a street photography seminar a couple weeks ago, held at a local photography store/gallery.

Notes from street photography seminar

I attended with a friend who is also a teacher and looking to improve her still photography skills as a way to develop as a film student.  Adding a social element with a trusted friend was a good motivator.  The night of the seminar we scheduled a day to go shooting together so we’d be sure to apply our new learning as soon as possible.  The seminar itself was quite informal — about 10 people from all walks, gathered in a camera supply store drinking soft drinks and coffee, eating cookies, listening to a lecture from a fairly well-known street photographer.  And there we were, the only ones with notebooks out and ready to write down everything we heard.  We laughed at that and embraced our learning styles!

The presenter’s material was incredibly well-organized.  Nearly all ideas were illustrated with example photographs.  Even more bizarre, it was as if her presentation was based on all my own questions and anxieties.  Apparently, my questions and concerns are not unique to me.

After 3 hours, I left with better understandings about the kinds of work that constitute street photography.  I had strategies for very specific techniques including photographing complete strangers, more artistic ways of capturing architecture, and using shadow for dramatic effect.  I left with knowledge about digital media rights, laws regarding creation and display of fine art, and, given the subject matter, some thinking about ethics.  (The ethics material was not at all something I expected.  Yet, given the subject, it made a lot of sense and completely held my attention given its relevance.)

Informal learning of this kind differs from formal learning in a few ways.  One is its highly specific nature both in terms of goals and relevance.  My goals were very specific and the seminar addressed only those goals.  In addition, the material was something I would immediately apply in my art and it dealt with concepts I was ready to take on.  Also, these kinds of learning events are short.  It matters that the learning time was limited and the  syllabus very specific.  This differs from traditional learning settings where classes can run for months and cover a wide variety of subjects within some broader content area.  This alone has me rethinking how I plan instruction and share or develop growth goals with learners.

Would anyone else have found the seminar of earth-shattering value?  Probably not.  But all the elements of the program addressed every one of very specific questions I had.  Having answers gave me the confidence I lacked mere hours before.  After so much formal learning I’ve encountered in my life, these kinds of events stand out as some of the most powerful learning experiences I’ve had.

Here’s some evidence of my learning.