Unpacking the Informal Learning definition

Posted by gminks in informal learning | Tagged , | 6 Comments

This is a quick post coming from comments on my last post about Informal Learning. Just to recap, I used this this definition as a starting point for trying to define Informal learning:

a type of education or training program in which learners define what they want to learn and learning is considered successful when learners feel that they are able to master their intended objectives (whether or not the course designers believe that the learners have or have not demonstrated mastery) [Carliner, 2004] (all emphasis mine).

Driscoll, M., & Carliner, S. (2005). Advanced Web-Based Training Strategies: Unlocking Instructionally Sound Online Learning (p. 118). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

So is this saying that informal learning is something intentional on the part of the learner? It sounds like it, because the definition says informal learning happens when “learners feel they have mastered their intended objectives”.

I agree with this in part – especially if it is learning for something project based. But is all informal learning intentional? Can’t you learn something because you are in the right place at the right time and something just clicks? What would you call that?

Let’s say for right now that informal learning requires some intentional search for information on the part of the learner. Does it matter if the learner was told to learn the objective? What if your boss says “go learn how to write in some new programming language. But I can’t afford to send you to a formal class. You have to learn it for an upcoming project, or you can find a new job.” Does the learning objective the boss has for the learner automatically transfer to the learner?

Finally, what happens if the learner’s objectives are met by a formal learning course. Is what happens still informal learning?

I’m not sure what I think yet. I have some ideas, but I’d love to hear from you experts out there!

Does this mean my learning objective is finding a good way to define informal learning? 🙂

6 Responses to Unpacking the Informal Learning definition

  1. Ernie Kahane says:

    I think it’s useful to think of words like informal learning and formal learning as “tools” for thought. Do they help clarify issues? Do they help you do real work?

    1) If you are selling training and you’ve discovered you’re now in the learning business, knowing that 80% of learning is informal presents a great market opportunity, if you’ve been focused only on the formal 20%. So defining formal and informal as products can make good business sense.
    2) However, defining the difference as “my” objectives vs designer’s objectives isn’t persuasive. In this definition, the same classroom course might be formal to one person and informal to another based on whether “learners feel that they are able to master their intended objectives (whether or not the course designers believe that the learners have or have not demonstrated mastery). “ (Help, this definition is confusing)
    3) Most learning happens when you get stuck and want to get unstuck. It’s not so grand as having conscious objectives, sometimes you just want to find out where to get on the subway. And because learning is multi-layered, often you find out (if you are in intentional mode) that that you learned something completely different than what you intended to learn. It’s the unintended or collateral learning people usually talk about when they are in formal classes e.g. I got a chance to meet Joe and talk.

    • gminks says:

      @Ernie Kahane, but isn’t wanting to get unstuck a conscious objective? 🙂

      • Ernie Kahane says:

        Gina, what about the learning that clues us into the rules of the game of our organization – who gets ahead, what the game is? How do we characterize the learning that we gain that makes us feel part of the team and engaged. None of this learning seems to be driven by objectives, you soak in the culture and some people never figure it out. I consider this engagement level of learning a fundamental part of informal learning and smart management should want to influence it. However, this assumes informal learning can be fundamentally different in nature than formal. Formal is driven by top-down objectives. Informal often happens in the moment and happens by bottoms-up and I think “non-conscious” objectives. Just like you don’t have a conscious objective to eat lunch every day or drive home. If this is true, there’s a bunch of cultural learning that goes on under the radar that ranges from Dilbertian to From Good to Great. This level allows you to start talking about the nature of learning organizations and smart and dumb organizations

  2. Donald Clark says:

    As far as being in the right place at that right time and you learn something that you did not intend to learn is normally called “incidental learning.”

    Also, I think there needs to be one more type of learning – nonformal. This is learning that is guided by someone other than a learning professional (formal learning) or the learners themselves (informal learning).

    For example, the metrics used to measure informal learning includes OJT. However, the vast majority of OJT is not defined by the learners, but rather by the manager or an expert or exemplar coworker. Thus, nonformal learning is learning that is defined by a person other than a learning professional (trainer, instructor, teacher, etc.) or the learners themselves.

  3. Lila Kirschbaum says:

    Lots of good comments and thoughts. I’d like to add to Ernie’s comments. My suggestion is that we begin by looking at the needed end result.

    When they have completed their learning what will the learner:

    · Need / want to do
    · Need / want to know how to do

    Beginning with a definition of what the end result needs to be allows the learner to focus on what they want/ need to achieve when they have completed their learning.

    As they learn they may add to, or change, what they want or need to learn. Then the end result may change. This is fine, as long as they know what they want/ need to learn. From my perspective it is the end result of the learning that is important and what it is called is secondary.

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