What is informal learning?

Informal learning: Definition and application


What is informal learning?

Research definition of informal learning: Informal learning is defined as “learning from experience that takes place outside formally structured, institutionally sponsored, class-room based activities” (Macià & García, 2016).

Informal learning applies to the process of acquiring knowledge, skills and attitudes outside of formal, structured education or training programmes. It can happen in any setting, such as at work, at home, or during leisure activities, and can be intentional or unintentional.

Informal learning is different from formal learning, which tends to takes place in a structured setting such as a classroom, with a designated teacher, coach or trainer and a defined curriculum or set of defined outcomes. Informal learning is often self-directed, meaning that individuals choose what they want to learn and how they want to learn it, without a specific syllabus or set of learning objectives.

Examples of informal learning include reading books or articles, watching videos or tutorials, participating in online communities or discussion forums, attending conferences or seminars, and learning through trial and error or hands-on experience or just talking with friends for example. Informal learning can be just as valuable as formal learning, as it enables individuals to develop skills and knowledge that may not be covered by formal education or training.

Organisations can also benefit from informal learning by providing opportunities for employees to learn from each other, through mentoring, coaching, or job shadowing programmes. This can help to foster a culture of continuous learning and development within the workplace.

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Callanan, M., Cervantes, C., & Loomis, M. (2011). Informal learning. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science, 2(6), 646-655.

Eraut, M. (2004). Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in continuing education, 26(2), 247-273.

Folkestad, G. (2006). Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs formal and informal ways of learning. British journal of music education, 23(2), 135-145.

Macià, M., & García, I. (2016). Informal online communities and networks as a source of teacher professional development: A review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 55, 291-307.

Marsick, V. J., & Volpe, M. (1999). The nature and need for informal learning. Advances in developing human resources, 1(3), 1-9.

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