"Towards Informal-formal Professional Development Networks"
By Professor Maarten de Laat, LOOK, Open Universiteit Nederland, The Netherlands
Prof. dr. Maarten de Laat is full Professor at LOOK, a research center on teacher professional development, at the Open Universiteit of the Netherlands. He is director of the Social and Networked Learning research program, which concentrates on exploring social learning strategies and networked learning relationships that facilitate professional development in the workplace. His research is focused on informal learning in the workplace, lifelong learning, professional development and knowledge creation through (online) social networks and communities and the impact technology, learning analytics and social design has on the way these networks and communities work, learn and create value. He has published and presented his work extensively in research journals, books and conferences. He is co-chair of the International Networked Learning Conferences and a member of the steering committee of SoLAR (Society for Learning Analytics Research).
The present e-society has changed the way we are able to participate and act upon the changes around us. Through modern communication tools we are able to share our thoughts and connect with one another. We build networks and engage in open dialogues that have the potential to make a real difference to ourselves and the world. This ability is changing who we are and what we expect from each other. We expect increased participation, self-governance and active involvement to have an impact on the changes around us, whether it has to do with broad issues in our society, life long learning and professional development. At the same time people have always been building networks to increase their participation, but these networks have mostly been invisible to us. It is time to open our eyes and see the networks around us and use them to our advantage. New media and networking tools have made us more aware of the impact these networks can have, but we are still struggling to reach their full potential.
In this keynote I would like to focus on our work in the area of professional development networks. Here we argue that there is a great need to utilize the social networks that professionals develop. Professional networks facilitate not only the way work gets done, it also enables learning, innovation and organizational development. However these networks are mostly personal, invisible and reside outside the formal organization.
I will demonstrate some of our methods and instruments to illustrate that social cognition is an important asset for professional growth. I will show how the tools we use in our research help to visualize and reflect on the presence of informal professional networks and the value they create. These cases show how social media has the potential to raise quality awareness; toget to know your colleagues, their ambitions and build meaningful connections to collaborate on shared challenges and create synergy. These cases also show that we need a better connection between these informal networks and their potential use within the formal organization. From these cases we learn that we need an approach to professional development that not only focuses on the formal aspects of an organization, but we need to be in touch with the learning that happens informally in social networks based on dealing with day-to-day challenges in the workplace. This means that professional development policy and culture needs to embrace an additional set of learning metaphors and incorporate an approach that is termed informal-formal learning. Through informal-formal learning we can create a social professional space within organizations. A space that allow professional networks to have a real impact on changing their (work) environment. The question is what does this space looks like and how can this space facilitate social networking:
-What tools, method, attitude and leadership are needed to utilize this space?
-How can we consolidate and utilize shared expertise and reward value creation?
-How can we manage and increase informal networks without formalizing them?
Our research shows that social networking as such is an important asset to organizations, but these methods and tools also hold its promise for other domains. Raising awareness about how informal social networks have an impact on change is key to stimulate participation and engagement into meaningful action and their ability to raise their profile in formal settings.