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informal learning and non-formal learning

is there really such a thing as informal learning?

photo: informal learning and non-formal learningAll of a sudden a number of researchers and policy pundits have rediscovered ‘informal learning’. But is there really such a thing? In this feature we explore the theory and practice of 'informal learning' and 'non-formal learning', and the emerging critique.

As a starter you could dip into our overview of informal learning in the encyclopedia of informal education. In that piece the case is made for being clear about the difference between education and learning.

We also have a substantial piece written by Helen Colley, Phil Hodkinson & Janice Malcolm. They provide a very helpful overview of different discourses around non-formal learning and informal learning and find that there are few, if any, learning situations where either informal or formal elements are completely absent. Boundaries or relationships between informal, non-formal and formal learning can only be understood within particular contexts. They conclude that it is often more helpful to examine dimensions of formality and informality, and ways in which they inter-relate with each other; and that attention should be paid to the wider historical, social, political and economic contexts of learning, and to the theoretical view of learning that is held by the writer.

Stephen Billett also has important things to say about informal learning. He argues that describing learning through work as being ‘informal’ is incorrect. See his critique of key assumptions shaping current discourses on workplace learning.

Alan Rogers explores a new paradigm with regard to informal education, informal learning and non-formal education.

Informal learning is sometimes approached as learning in the community. We examine some key conceptualizations and models - and explore their relationship to informal learning and informal education. We also examine the [informal] learning that emerges out of associational life, friendship, and home education.

Last, but not least, it is helpful to return to the source from which the key distinction (between informal learning, non-formal learning and formal learning) emerged: the discourses around non-formal education in the 1960s and 1970s. Check out our articles on non-formal education, and non-formal education and colonialism.

informal learning and non formal learning was first published in February 2003
 Last update: October 10, 2013