SOME OF MY CLOSEST friends never finished formal education but they have accumulated an immense amount of experiential credit. I meet up with at least one of those friends once a month and learn more from a long chat with those college drop-outs than from a week of reading professional journals. And my online reading list has non-matriculators like Joi Ito on it too. Joi talks about how his sister Mimi is a sibling opposite. "She was a straight A student and I was a solid B student. She seemed to be able to focus and get through her schoolwork easily where I struggled." Joe's sister Mimi "ended up first at Harvard and then at Stanford and is now in the midst of an academic career." Joi couldn't get into places he desired so he dropped out after a few years. But the underlying story is the same as many of the high achievers I know--those long eagles are universally disillusioned with formal education. And many of the sharpest mature students I know, the ones returning to education in Ireland, have to really focus to pay attention.
Without distorting the Higher Education Training and Awards Council's marks and standards, I have undertaken to ensure that I teach skills as well as knowledge. I'm given a wide berth by externs and colleagues in Tipperary Institute because I have an intermittent dysfunctional relationship with formal learning myself. While respecting the stacks of books I should have read, I acknowledge that I've learned a lot through personal and professional relationships. That experiential knowledge has been the toolset I have needed to present at conferences and to provide respected consultancy advice.
Back to Joi and Mimi because they're discussing formal learning versus informal learning. Their discussions point to the importance of being around smart people and getting the support of mentors. Joi's success is a credit to his obsessive personality and easy access to internet resources.
Every month, I join a discussion about improving access to education for academically-challenged students. We also chat about ways to lower attrition rates. And when we cover these topics, I can see the faces of students in front of me, knowing more than 20% of them have interests, aptitudes and abilities that are not suited for formal education. But with a little twist, formal education can be modified to achieve academic standards while holding out a promise of greater appeal for jaded students.
I also push the concept of informal learning through face-to-face networking with start-ups. This continues to be immensely difficult for students who are 20 years younger than those who are bootstrapping their way into new business ventures. Their body language (above right) can tell the story without prompting.
My over-reaching hope is to contribute to an education or industry forum in Ireland where third level education has structural components that increase its ability to support a wider spectrum of learners. If Ireland can do that, more of its truly creative citizens will make it through the system and back out onto the streets where they can contribute to the creative economy.
Joi Ito -- "Formal vs Informal Education" on his blog, 28 Feb 10.