Registration not required!

When passionate learners gather together, registration is not required. Participation and interest are essential. A commitment to self-renewal is critical. But registration is not required – just drop-in and learn.  #moocmooc and ‘the hole in the wall‘ are examples.

5340808741_1cc193cfc8_zCasual learning, as a way of acquiring knowledge, is the flip side of formal, scheduled learning events. These impromptu knowledge events (in both physical and digital spaces) are not necessarily a push to dis-establish schools. Rather, they are the flip side of the mobius loop of learning and antithesis to formal learning establishments. Both are necessary. Both provide opportunity for sharing knowledge. Formal and informal ways of learning exist in a push-pull relationship within an ever shifting loop altered by individual, cultural and community needs. Personal preferences and purposes will continue to determine how individuals access, engage and acquire education.

My mother was an avid learner with little formal schooling. In her later years, she became a voracious participant in formal and semi-formal courses. She connected to courses and learning spaces that were free, open and interesting. She passionately applied new learning to art, writing, conversations and reading. Her passion for self-renewal continued until declining health, prevented action. Despite barriers and challenges throughout her life, she ended her days ‘deliberately choosing a life of action’ where knowledge was an aspect of her ‘being in the world’ rather than a commodity to be exploited. Her lifestyle enabled spontaneous independence to pursue passions and relate to others with similar interests. Her legacy for learning, as Illich relates, was one of ‘conviviality’ – “individual freedom realized in personal interdependence, and, as such, an intrinsic ethical value” (Smith, pg. 13).  My mother’s model for learning-as-life resonates with my own knowledge networks.

As I reflected on the topic of de-schooling, I discover that I am as comfortable in formal, structured learning settings as I am in free-flowing learning events (masters level courses vs #moocmooc, SOOC, book clubs, etc.). Both are acceptable and desirable ways for my continued convivial learning. But what’s true for me is not true for all learners. Many, my son included, find frustration, pain and anger in formalized school settings and yet continue to strive for meaningful learning in unstructured and convivial ways – with individual freedom and personal interdependence. The options need to be kept open for these learners as well as those who find comfort in structure.

I also discovered that Illich’s ‘learning as action’ is found within my ‘learning webs’.  Illich describes four types of learning webs (Smith, pg. 14). These go beyond the current notions of PLN’s (personal leanring networks) or PLE’s (personal learning environments). These learning webs belong to the people, with the people and in the hands of the people, not organizations or formalized structures of learning. These networks operate more like ‘affinity spaces’ and informal learning commons.

  1. reference services to educational objects – eg. Toronto library innovation hub, networks of ‘maker spaces’ e.g. Site3 in Toronto as well as MakerKids locations
  2. skill exchange e.g. my daughter’s making wedding bands experience, edCamps (upcoming HigherEdCamp)
  3. peer matching – finding a partner in inquiry – e.g. edmatch? Twitter (only seven degrees of separation from anyone else in the world!)
  4. reference services at large – service directories, Youtube (find how to do anything with user-created videos)

The reflection of Illich’s learning networks can be seen within Suguta Mitra’s child driven education (the hole in the wall) experience in India or the school-bus classroom, where learning occurs despite all odds. Joy in learning for the sake of knowledge is purpose and reason enough for many. Grandfather teachings and grandmother educators (in the granny cloud or SOLE-self organized learning environments) are necessary ‘ways of learning, being and knowing’.  Informally being in relation with others and with knowledge is one side of the learning loop. Formal and regulated learning is an important flip side for some to unlock learning. There are many learners who need the structured, goal focused, externally directed ways of learning in order to succeed. Balance between formal, structured settings and the free-flow learning environment can provide opportunities for individual choice and voice.

Seeing both sides of the loop will help us ‘disenthrall’ (Robinson) ourselves from the current singular focus on formal, schooled versions of education. It will avoid throwing out the old versions of schooling to the detriment of providing only one track for learning. Flipping the loop and moving from one side to the other can result in non-linear learning through serendipity  and, from personal experience, the best learning happens serendipitously – where no registration is required.


Robinson, K. (Feb. 2010). Bring on the learning revolution.

. Retrieved from

Smith, M.K. (1997-2011). Ivan Illich: deschooling, conviviality and the possibilities for informal education and lifelong learning’. The encyclopedia of informal education retrieved from

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3 Responses to Registration not required!

  1. francesbell says:

    Thanks Helen – this is the most inspirational blog post I have read this year. Like you, I am very interested in the way that learning exists and is fostered outside of institutions and can share some of my own writing if you are interested. I loved your example of the Toronto Library Innovation hub but ‘institutions’ like libraries are under threat in my own country (UK).
    Also, rhetoric like Sugata Mitra’s does need a little unpicking
    I think it’s hugely difficult for informal learning to be supported without some sort of ‘institutionalism’ but I do think that alternatives are possible that lie between traditional education and rampant commercialism.

    • HJ.DeWaard says:

      So nice to connect! Yes, the whole ‘hole in the wall’ requires more than one mention in a blog post can provide. I think the push-pull between open OER’s and formalized ed settings is a good way for change to evolve. I’d love to see more from your writing. I’ll link through Twitter to your web site and start there, but please provide anything that could help my own ‘renovations’ in learning. Thanks!

  2. francesbell says:

    Well here’s a starter from my blog – post I wrote as input to a Twitter chat

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