Wednesday, 30 May 2007

Informal learning in action

Yesterday I went to buy a second hand (almost new) car. It’s a big thing for me, for many people I expect, it's a lot of money to pay out. I managed to haggle down a few quid here, a few quid there (pounds to you non-Brits) and came out with a big enough discount for my own piece of mind, if not for my bank balance.

I thought about what I’d done on the way home…thought about why I’d immediately attempted to get money off (not just cos I’m tight), how I’d known what to look for, what car to go for, and thought about all the experiences that had influenced my behaviour.

They were, in no particular order:

  • Talking to friends and family about what they’d done when buying a new car and what to look for/how to act
  • Listening to stories I’d heard from friends and colleagues about car buying and remembered them when I got there
  • Watching TV programmes about cars (Top Gear mostly, I love the Hamster…)
  • Watching TV programmes about car salespeople
  • Watching The Apprentice …enough said
  • Reading "what to look for" check lists

I didn’t go and learn how to buy a car on a training course. I learnt how to do it by talking to people, observing, reading and actively searching for information from multiple sources, gaining a lot information which I’d somehow internalised and used when I finally decided which car to buy.

This indicates to me that informal learning really is something that needs close attention and analysis.

The first thing that really amazed me about all this was the power of TV as a learning device. It seems almost entirely passive when you're watching it whilst eating your tea (not that I'd EVER do that :-) Try watching QI a few times to realise exactly how many useless bits of info you pick up to amaze and occasionally bore your friends with. It is possible to learn something from even adverts – I learnt what a numismatist was from a McDonalds advert (it’s a coin collector…).

The other interesting thing is the recall I had when I needed it. I wasn’t aware I’d picked up and stored all this stuff, but obviously I had. But that’s for another time…

The thing that most struck me was that I was a part of a group of people who know a lot about cars. And I mean a lot. About things I’d never even heard of. But I gained more insight into what I needed to do and how to go about it more quickly than I ever could through the other channels I’d experienced.

Conversation is a wonderful thing – people are stuffed full of useful information. All in all I’d say that belonging to a community is a valuable precursor to timely knowledge acquisition, and that learning is to a great extent, informal.

And all I need to do now is find a loan to pay for the rest of the car…my friend says he’s found a really low rate….

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