Thanks for the responses to my previous rather provocative post on informal learning. I feel I owe you a more detailed explanation or definition of learning situations as I see it:
– formal learning is where the objectives (learning outcomes), the method, management, and the assessment of the learning outcomes are by and large created externally.
– non-formal learning is where the learning outcomes are internally defined (by the learner), maybe also the method. The assessment can be self-assessment or external assessment.
– informal learning is where no concrete learning outcomes have been defined, but intentional learning happens that is self-motivated. Informal learning requires no assessment, although self-assessment or reflection are not explicitly excluded.
– heuristic or accidental learning is stumbling across knowledge that results in mental intake and thus gets added to the internal/personal knowledge base.
A case of formal learning is a traditional course leading to some sort of externally accredited and recognised qualification.
Non-formal learning would be the equivalent of PDPs, where a learner defines some learning objectives (e.g. I want to become fluent in language X). This may contain more or less planning components such as a timescale (e.g. be fluent before my summer holiday in country X), and may lean towards formal qualifications to a greater or lesser extent (e.g. a language certificate). Reflection on progress may be another component of non-formal learning. A good example of non-formal learning is the study for a driving licence outside a driving school.
Informal learning encompasses learning where no learning outcome has been specified (but may incidentally be achieved) and which lacks the project management structure of non-formal PDPs. Although informal learning is unstructured in its approach, it is intentional (e.g. I want to know something about Scottish history, I want to keep up-to-date in my job, I want to solve a problem). Heuristic learning may be seen as a sub-set of informal learning which does not start from a question or problem.
In all learning situations there are different depths of learning. An approximate analogy would be “reading”: At the illiterate end, one only sees black ink patterns on white paper – this is not reading, e.g. people who look at patterns on the wall of Egyptian pyramides or a foreign alphabet might understand that they contain some meaning, but since they cannot decode it they remain illiterate. Children start reading by pulling their finger across the letters: d-o-g, only when they can extract meaning they are reading. Full reading competence is achieved when meaning and intention of the writer can be extracted from a text. There is, I would add, another level of reading which happens when you get so immersed in a novel that you forget about the reality around you.
The comparison may be slightly flawed, but what I’m trying to say is that learning starts when there is an intention put to it which allows the information to become encoded in the brains, even if this intention is ad-hoc when stumbling across something interesting. It is the intention and the immersion that results from the intention that differenciates my understanding of informal learning from other views.