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Recognizing Informal learning

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Jane writes on “What is informal learning?” says

….Most corporations over-invest in formal training while leaving the more natural, simple ways we learn to chance. Informal learning and formal learning are at opposite ends of the learning spectrum. Informal learning is the unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs.

Informal learning and formal learning are at opposite ends of the learning spectrum.

Lindsay Grant helps us recognize when informal learning is occurring in  “How to spot informal learning”:

Perhaps most significantly, informal learning is driven by the learner themselves. The learner is in control, deciding what to learn, when to learn and how to learn. They go at their own pace, and follow their own interests. Sometimes this might be ‘accidental’ learning – learning without realising it, or learning as a consequence of playing or socialising. At other times, it might be undertaking a series of activities or a project for personal interest….

Perhaps most significantly, informal learning is driven by the learner themselves. The learner is in control, deciding what to learn, when to learn and how to learn. They go at their own pace, and follow their own interests. Sometimes this might be ‘accidental’ learning – learning without realising it, or learning as a consequence of playing or socialising. At other times, it might be undertaking a series of activities or a project for personal interest.

and closes with

Informal learning is more like riding a bike. You might ride alone, or choose to go along with other people. You decide where to go and how fast to go. If you see something interesting on the way, you can take a detour, or just stop to admire the scenery. In a recent workshop with young people to explore and develop their own ideas about how technologies could support their informal learning, they had no trouble in explaining how informal learning played a part in their own lives….

At work, we learn most of our job through experience – through watching, talking to others, finding resources, and trying things out. Things are no different for young people. It’s about time we recognised the importance of informal learning in the wider ecology of our learning lives. It might not always be the loudest or brightest, but if you look closely, you’ll find informal learning going on all around you.

Martin Hughes has similar ideas about the importance of informal learning in terms of practice, confidence and challenges:

….But if we really want to understand informal learning, we need to listen to those who are actually doing it….

The children often talked about the importance of practice. If you want to get good at something, you have to keep doing it. But practice doesn’t have to be boring or a chore. Tommy, a drummer in a teenage rock band, said:

‘I don’t go and “practice drums”. When I want to play, I just play’

The children also talked about how learning to do something outside school gave you confidence. Katie, who had taken part in an after-school drama performance, described how she and her friends felt when they came to perform the play:

‘Because we knew what we was doing…like we were just strong at it and we weren’t like “oh what do we do next?” we were really doing it, giving it our all’

and concludes with

Another key idea for the children was that of challenge. Too much challenge and you might give up, but too little challenge might mean you don’t get any better. Computer and video games which allow you to set the level of challenge can be very supportive of informal learning.

Listening to children talking about their informal learning can help us think about how informal learning can best be supported. But it can also help us think about how formal learning might be made more productive.

Finally, it is worth mentioning Questler, which In their own words is:

Questler is an informal learning network that enables you to reflect on your everyday learning with individuals that share your interests and quests. Together you can start conversations, discuss and share your opinions.

Quests in Questler are mini-blogs of information categorized into 6 types, Query, Observation, Discovery, Research, Media and Story. Each of those types represents an informal aspect to everyday learning.”

When we look at toddlers, we all know that they learn best through informal learning (aka playing), but somewhere along the way we drop this notion, so by the time we get to adulthood it is nigh forgotten concept.  It would seem natural that we try to bring it back, if not at least for our children and junior youth.



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