Informal Learning Beyond the Classroom

Posted February 9, 2017 – AWE Learning Staff
Learning can be categorized in a number of ways, especially when you consider the STREAM approach for young learners. Formal learning describes education that is organized, classroom-based, and delivered by formally-trained teachers. Informal learning describes education that is much less organized and takes place outside of the classroom setting. These environments can include libraries, museums, online communities, child care centers, and other organizations.

Formal learning goals are set by the school district and are curriculum-driven to meet Common Core State Standard requirements. In contrast, the goals of informal learning, if any are set, are identified by the individual learner. Informal learning does not follow a specific curriculum and allows the student to take ownership of their learning. The young learner has the freedom to decide which STREAM topic they want to investigate.

According to LearnDash, some of the key differences between formal and informal education include:

  • Classrooms typically have the same children and educator every day, while informal education, such as an after-school program, often have somewhat inconsistent attendance
  • Formal learning can take place over a long period of time. The teacher drives the learning route, by following a classroom-scripted curriculum that may take several weeks to complete. Informal learning is often much quicker, as it is self-directed and can include detours along the way
  • Teachers who instruct in a formal education setting have usually undergone training and hold degrees in educational philosophy. This background provides effective teaching strategies, classroom management, and overall content knowledge. Instruction in informal learning settings can be self directed or conducted by instructors with less teaching experience and expertise

Informal learning is often less structured than formal learning. Students learn from the people with whom they share their experiences, especially outside of a structured classroom setting. Informal learning provides additional opportunities for young learners to explore topics of interest using an array of resources (both digital and non-digital).

Studies show that during a calendar year, children only spend 14% of their time in school, while 53% is spent in the home and community, and 33% is spent sleeping. Visits to child care centers or the local library, which serve as community learning hubs, provide an opportunity for children to partake in informal learning in a safe and educational environment.

Additional benefits of an informal component that supplements formal learning include:

  • Technological resources can help young learners investigate and collect facts and knowledge on STREAM topics of interest
  • Informal learning is often more relaxing for young learners
  • Experiences that young learners have prior to kindergarten help build social skills necessary for school readiness
  • Informal learning generates added excitement, as young learners get to select which STREAM topic is interesting and investigate on their own

Blogger Jay Cross says informal learning is like riding a bike: while the rider chooses the destination and the route, they can also take a detour at any moment to admire the scenery or make a stop along the way. Informal learning provides further opportunity for learner-driven education that accompanies a more structured curriculum.

informal learning

Join the discussion on informal learning on Facebook.