So What?(s the big deal with informal learning)

A phrase we get asked a lot in higher education with regards to our research is, “so what?”  I think it is a good a fair question. It causes us to think and reflect.  Is what I am interested in, interesting to anyone else?  Is there a need to research ___________ (insert favorite research topic here)?  If I were to teach a class on this, would anyone want to take it?  These are the kinds of questions that come to mind when I hear the “so what” question.

Let me focus my answers on my specific research interests of informal online learning environments.  Informal learning certainly has its own answers as well as I think there are many benefits to informal learning in general (think museums, libraries, etc), but specifically when you add in the connections that the Internet affords, the possibilities are seemingly limitless of what you can create/share/do. My primary research is around Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir project ( If you are not familiar with this project, take a few minutes and go to YouTube and search for Virtual Choir.  There are four total project from Whitacre, each unique and beautiful in its own way.

Back to why I believe this is important.  Are people learning anything as part of this project?  Well, I think the answer is yes, but perhaps more importantly, these kind of project is highly motivating to individuals.  If we consider actually recording, and submitting a finished video as evidence of motivation to participate, the growth of the project has gone from about 270 participants in the first project, to over 6,000 in the fourth one just three years later.  I am interested in understanding what motivates participation in this project.  The participants come from all over the world (over 100 countries with the VC4), different backgrounds, with varying degrees of musical experiences, ages, and many other factors that we may analyze. The single common thing is that they want to participate in this project.  They are voluntarily participating and many spending dozens of hours of their own personal time learning and uploading their videos.

I want to know what it is about this project that makes them want to participate and why are they doing it. Findings from this and other similar online learning scenarios could be used to identify motivating factors of participation.  Possibly with application and transfer to other learning environments (after further research). Bottom line, technology is allowing people to connect and create things that were not possible in the past.  I believe it is very important to understand how motivation is the same or different in these online informal spaces.

I would love to hear your thoughts…


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