For several months now I have been trying to get my head around informal learning. My starting point was one of endorsing the importance of informal learning. This was based largely on my community development experience, seeing the learning engaged in by people who had been considered educational failures, and more recently on recognising the amount of independent learning engaged in by all manner of individuals through the use of web resources. My involvement in various OU networks and the Sussex Learning Network has made me aware of the importance of Web 2.0 and social learning. I took part in the Clusters project which explored the potential use of a number of Web 2.0 tools in supporting students.
In exploring the informal learning literature, I have found a complex mishmash of debate about categorisation and definitions. The term has gained different meanings in different contexts and there are those who suggest it is an unhelpful term which should be avoided. As long ago as 2003, it was suggested that there is no clear differentiation between formal and informal learning but that both include elements of the other to varying degrees.
At the end of last week, in a flash of inspiration or madness, I suggested to my DPhil supervisor that perhaps a different typology was needed and suggested as a starting point 5 categories: other directed, self directed, incidental, serendipitous, and social. Over the weekend, I spent time doing literature searches on self-directed learning and found this was an area which had attracted a lot of attention and debate in the 1980s and early 1990s but the more recent literature seemed to be focusing on the development of independent learning skills in formal contexts rather than the earlier focus on self-teaching. I was not happy with my initial 5 categories; I find it particularly unhelpful using a term which has a clearly understood meaning in a different context. This morning, I was beginning to think about just 2 categories – self and other initiated – with sub-categories of intentional, incidental and accidental. I then came across a fascinating blog post from Jane Hart, signposted by Jay Cross. Although the focus is on use of social media in organisational training contexts, the starting point is an attempt to find a more satisfactory classification tool than formal and informal learning.