Informal learning is the process by which we learn freely, creatively and passionately. Unlike a structured and defined four-year university program, for example, it is a natural exercise through which we gain an even deeper understanding of our subject matter. But what are the key concepts of informal learning that distinguish it from formal learning? Isn’t knowledge just knowledge, after all?
There are four key concepts that make informal learning unique:
In an article called “At the Water Cooler of Learning,” David Grebow, describes it as a kind of “real learning” that involves our brain connecting all the dots in an amazing experience that includes our memory, synapses, endorphins and encoding. Real learning, which he describes as the kind that sticks to our brain, is almost always informal and it happens all around our formal learning process. It can also make a huge difference in our lives and in our businesses.
Frank Coffield, author of The Necessity of Informal Learning, insists that informal learning should never be considered inferior to formal learning.He suggests instead that it needs to be seen as essential, fundamental and valuable in its own right whether it happens in our workplaces or within the rest of our lives.
Education consultant Charles Leadbeater also writes that more informal learning needs to be accomplished at home and in offices and factories and other places where the knowledge is put to immediate use to solve problems and create value in peoples’ lives. Leadbeater, author of Living on Thin Air. The New Economy, believes that our most important capability in life, and the one which traditional, formal education is worst at delivering, is “the ability and yearning to carry on learning.”
He encourages schools and universities to become more like hubs of learning capable of branching out into the community.
Grebow comes to the same conclusion which he expresses as a 75/25 Rule of Learning. He suggests that we get 25 percent of what we need to know in our jobs through formal learning and the rest from informal learning. However, his point is that corporations tend to invest much more in formal training, a habit that is not serving us well if we want to be an innovative nation.