Even though participants of informal learning programs may not be aware they are engaged in a learning activity, they nonetheless emerge with a renewed sense of confidence and self that translates into community engagement and renewal.
According to The Crick Report, informal learners become more politically aware, develop more respect for the law and experience a heightened sense of morality.
In the months that follow informal learning experiences, people tend to become more involved at practical levels in their communities. They sit on tenant’s boards, become education council members or take on volunteer work. They become more engaged citizens and this in turn, enhances their communities, giving them a sense of rejuvenation.
Informal learners also tend to experience a sense of group empowerment and increased mobilization and are more able to challenge wider social issues, observers at the Manchester Centre for Development recount
Informal learning, as defined by Veronica McGivney, means learning that takes place outside a dedicated learning environment (such as a classroom) and which arises from the activities and interests of individuals and groups.
Examples of informal learning opportunities could vary from a theatre troupe in a troubled American neighborhood to a UNESCO-supported program in Sri Lanka that brings e-learning to village people through a community radio’s ICT-equipped eTuktuk. It could be a program that helps farmers in small villages add value to their farms and use their natural resources sustainably.
What kinds of informal learning most impact communities?
Snyder, Wender and McDermott, in their book Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge, suggest that to be effective, informal learning efforts should be designed for evolution, invite different levels of participation, and open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives. They should also combine familiarity and excitement and create a rhythm for the community, among other things.
Technology plays a key role in the delivery of informal learning opportunities as well. That is significant given the average 8-18 year old in the United States spends more than seven hours a day using digital devices or watching television, the equivalent of the time they spend in formal learning at school.
One thing is clear: informal learning is vital in building an engaged citizenship that will use its power to rejuvenate its community. As Colin Latchem, president of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia explained it in a recent article, informal learning and non-formal education have a great potential for helping a wide range of learners achieve more desirable and rewarding circumstances for themselves and their communities.
The idea that communities can be rejuvenated and renewed through informal-learning inspired citizens is relatively new. But it is extremely important given that 85.4 percent of the world’s population lives in countries where millions of children have no access to formal schooling.
As early as 2000, the Council for Europe acknowledged that formal education systems cannot meet all the learning challenges of modern society. Increasingly, a partnership is needed between formal and non-formal learning to create life-long processes for self and then community development.
Change the people, it seems, and the community itself will change.
1. Crick, B. (2000) Essays on Citizenship, London, Continuum
2. Foster (2011) ICTs and Informal Learning in Developing Countries
3. McGivney, Veronica (1999) Informal Learning in the Community: A Trigger for Change and Development, National Institute of Adult Continuing Education
4. Wenger, Etienne, McDermott, Richard, and Snyder, William M. (2002) Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge.
5. Latchem, Colin. Informal Learning and Non-Formal Education for Development. Journal for Learning and Development