Work and learning in the computer era: Basic survey findings
Before the survey findings are presented, a few limitations on estimating learning activities should be noted. Learning is a continual process with moments of greater intensity and identifiability. Empirical identification of forms of learning depends on conceptual distinctions that suggest discrete categories for a process that often occurs in and across a variety of contexts. The distinctions between formal education, further education courses, informal education and self-directed informal learning as defined in Chapter 1 continue to be actively debated and also contrasted with more implicit and reactive forms of learning (see Smith 2000). But for purposes of these survey we assume: (1) that formal and informal learning are best understood as a continuum with interplay and overlap between different learning activities (Colley, Hodkinson and Malcolm 2003); (2) that informal learning activities have tended to be ignored or devalued by researchers and policy makers (Livingstone and Sawchuk 2004); and (3) that survey methods that necessarily rely on respondents’ self-reports can only begin to comprehend the extent of informal learning by documenting self-consciously registered informal education and self-directed learning that respondents recognize (Livingstone 2005). To
study informal learning using the sample survey techniques normally required for representative readings of human behaviour, we have to focus on those things that people can identify for themselves as deliberate learning activities beyond prescribed curricula and without externally authorized instructors. Tacit or latent informal learning is increasingly recognized as substantial and significant (e.g. Marsick and Watkins 2001) and the following WALL case studies attempt to identify less explicit aspects of informal learning through more in-depth interviewing or other more sensitive methods. But the focus of short surveys of adult informal learning is necessarily on self-reported learning that ignores the depths of everyday tacit learning. In addition, the NALL and WALL surveys focus on adults’ postcompulsory formal education, with ‘adult’ defined in both national survey samples for practical selection criterion as those over age 18.