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Extracurricular Activities-Essential Informal Learning for Any Degree Program

Monday, August 20, 2012
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Experts in informal learning posit that somewhere between 56 and 80 percent of all workplace learning occurs outside of formal training.  

But much of the study of informal learning has occurred within the context of becoming a professional—the goal of formal, degree programs. Although that research suggests that classroom portions play a significant role in professional development, experiences outside of the classroom play a crucial role.

 Classroom experiences build a knowledge base. But these extracurricular activities—the symposia and lectures, student group meetings, volunteer assignments, readings, conferences, and casual conversations over meals—provide students with opportunities to experience the field; meet other professionals; share their hopes and fears, failures and dreams; and prepare for the all-important transition from school to work. 

 Extracurricular activities serve the same role in academe that informal learning“situations in which some combination of the process, location, purpose, and content of instruction are determined by the worker, who may or may not be conscious that an instructional event occurred”—plays in workplace learning and performance.

To which extracurricular experiences should we direct our students so that they have experiences so central to their development as professionals? This series of blog posts offers several concrete suggestions for the types of activities to recommend, outlines choices available for students, and details how to direct students to the choices most appropriate for them.

This rest of this post explores the role of campus lectures and symposia. Future posts explore professional organizations, regular reading, conferences, and volunteer activities to recommend to students. The last two posts in this series pull these suggestions together: one explores the differences in purposes of each level of degree and what that might mean for professional development; the other suggests the importance of tailoring suggestions to the needs and interests of individual students.

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Extracurricular Activity 1: Encourage Students to Participate in Campus Intellectual Life (Even If They’re Not on Campus)

Campus intellectual life provides students with an opportunity to learn about recent research and theory in a setting outside the classroom, often outside the fields they study. In fact, one of the best ways to encourage interdisciplinary learning is to encourage students to attend lectures and symposia hosted by other departments.

Lectures are brief events, typically one to two hours long, given by a single speaker. Most lectures include time for the audience to ask questions. Lectures are often free to students.

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In contrast, symposia are longer events, about one-half day to several days, and explore a single theme from a variety of perspectives. as a result, they usually include presentations by speakers, panel discussions, and other types of formats. Most symposia require pre-registration. Some symposia have a registration fee (though most have a lower fee for students); others do not.

When recommending lectures and symposia to students, consider the following suggestions:

  • At the beginning of the term, scour the schedules of guest speakers on campus to offer recommendations to students. In some cases, students are too new to the field and might not know what to choose. 
     
  • In other cases, departments formally announce lectures close to the actual events and students might not have enough time to learn about it. But campuses often prepare long-term calendars and a knowledgeable instructor can often identify events of possible interest well in advance, and publicize them to students. 
     
  • For master’s and doctoral students, suggest that they attend at least one thesis or dissertation presentation per year, as well as one proposal defense per year. This provides students with exposure to a situation they will face later, and should help familiarize them with it and, ideally, help them prepare for it. 
     
  • For all students, suggest that they attend at least one lecture by a guest speaker per year. If the topics offered within the department lack appeal, suggest students consider looking elsewhere: 
    • Communications (especially events exploring the effectiveness of communication strategies and practices, and communications technology)
    • Computer science (especially events exploring the usability of information and the impact of enterprise-wide technology on processes within individual groups, such as training and development groups)
    • English (especially events on effective writing strategies—a skill that’s essential to effective instructional design)
    • Management (which has an active line of research in training and human resources, as well as explorations of business models, management concerns, and similar topics)
    • Marketing (especially events on the appeal of technology-based products like e- and m-learning and the use of edu-marketing to promote products)
    • Psychology (especially industrial and organizational psychology, which explores a number of topics of interest in human performance improvement).

 For students at the master’s and doctoral levels, suggest that they attend more than one, if possible.
 Final Tip: To learn more about different types of informal learning activities, check out chapters 5 and 6 of the new book, Informal Learning Basics from ASTD Press.

About the Author

Saul Carliner, PhD, CTDP, CFT, is a professor of educational technology at Concordia University in Montreal, Canada; author of Training Design Basics, Informal Learning Basics, and An Overview of Training and Development: Why Training Matters (with Margaret Driscoll); and a Fellow and past board member of the Institute for Performance and Learning.

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