Informal learning – what is it really?

A somewhat hyped expression the last few years is “informal learning”. I have heard it, used it and at last I came to think about what it really means. “Informal” in popular adult education is a welcome and positive way to regard learning. You learn everywhere, in any situation. It is a central aspect of the sociocultural learning theories too. But what do I learn? When I get really drunk at the pub  I learn something, apparently. When I watch a stupid youtube clip for the tenth time too?  But how do I experience that I have learned something? How do I measure that learning? How do I know how to use the experience and the things learned?

And what can schools and learning institutions use from the informal learning? That it is a good idea to start teaching at discoteques? (A metaphore to what is going on in every social network on the web at the moment)

A fight broke out in the blogosphere when Bill Brantley went through Jay Crosses book “Informal learning“. Here are some qoutes:

“Informal learning is just another hype-filled, buzzword that pretends to be a radical change from the past but is really bits-and-pieces of other learning methods badly packaged.”

“Cross’ definition of informal learning is so wide open it can mean almost anything.”

An interesting statement. I cant help but feeling the same way about the statements from some people I have discussed with. Informal learning has its benefits, but which ones? And in what way? I am in the middle of processing that.

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2 Responses to “Informal learning – what is it really?”


  1. 1 Giselle Ferreira March 26, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    I can sympathise with your feelings and your ‘processing’ state, Pelle … A while back I was wondering if ‘informal learning’ was a contradiction in terms, and I’m not yet entirely convinced it’s not (I’m doing some work that I’m framing as in the area of ‘online informal learning’, so I’m also thinking about terminology).

    Thinking about the ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘how’ etc. of learning is a tricky business anyway, and with so much based on metaphors (like the one you mention), it all becomes quite convoluted, especially with the added requirement of splitting ‘formal’ from ‘informal'(it’s always a problem to work on negative definitions, things can become a bit circular, I think) and having ‘measures’ or ‘indicators’. And there’s also (crucially?)the politics surrounding (and perhaps explaining, at least to some extent) the many disagreements and debates.

    Your project looks really interesting, by the way, good luck!


  1. 1 Pontydysgu - Bridge to Learning » Blog Archive » Hype filled buzzword or how people learn? Trackback on March 26, 2008 at 12:33 pm

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About this blog

Starting from a project about foreseeing the future of learning, this blog is an output of thoughts, ideas, comments and research. I am trying to be practical too, providning examples of the different aspects of the subject. My name is Pelle Filipsson and I work as a web pedagog.

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