Home » education » Does informal learning have to have attributes of formal learning to be learning?

Does informal learning have to have attributes of formal learning to be learning?


Afraid the heading of this blog is a bit of a mouthful, but it comes out of my recent reading around self-directed learning and listening to a recording on Graham Attwell’s blog.  A phrase that jumped out of me from the recording was around how the ‘reflexivity and critique’ which is valued in formal learning can be incorporated into informal learning.  Over the last few days, I have been reading a lot around self-directed learning and one of the things that struck me about this was that in the first instance self-directed learning was something which was observed as happening – recognised in the early informal learning surveys – but then the education/social science community got hold of the concept and began to look at it in relation to formal education. Apart from the attempts to quantify self-directed learning, the emphasis appears to have been on the encouragement of independent learning in formal contexts (use of learning contracts and problem based learning) and questioning whether self-directed learning in the wild was really learning if it was focusing on skill development without the reflective elements.

Brookfield (1984) has a useful discussion about terminology – how the word ‘learning’ is understood and contrasting this with ‘education’ and ‘teaching’. Perhaps the ‘knowledge acquisition’ mentioned by Attwell should also form part of the semantic mix? Brookfield stresses the need for clarity in terminology: “one priority for thinkers in this field must be to propose clear and unambiguous definitions of learning and education in order that internal mental change is distinguished from the external collection, management and analysis of information.” Is it the continuing confusion over terminology underpinning the desire for the mental processes of informal learning to more closely resemble those of formal learning?

Is there a danger that informal learning will be undervalued in much the same way as informal care has been through the imposition of measures and standards that have little or nothing to do with the informal and all to do with something else, whatever label we give that something else?


1 Comment

  1. think the key thing for me is that the reflection in self directed and informal learning = at least in work – comes from a dialectic between the subject of the learning and the process of practice ie applied knowledge – this has been usefully – in my view – called work process knowledge

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