What is Informal Learning?

Informal learning refers to learning that occurs whenever a person responds to a change outside a normal or routine course of action that he is accustomed to.  This form of learning is like a catch-all for anything that falls outside formal learning and non-formal learning.  Hence informal learning can happen practically anywhere, through daily interactions and shared relationships with members of society, either at home, workplace, or any other settings.  Some scholars have even gone further to dissect informal learning into three components: self-directed learning, incidental learning, and socialization, or tacit learning. The differentiation is due to the intentionality and awareness at the time of the learning experience. Self-directed learning tends to be intentional and conscious; incidental learning, on the other hand, is an accidental by-product of doing something else, is unintentional but after the experience she or he becomes aware that some learning has taken place; and finally, socialization or tacit learning is neither intentional nor conscious (although we can become aware of this learning later through ‘retrospective recognition’) (Marsick & Watkins).

Lifelong Learning

Ask yourself these questions: Who taught you how to cycle?  Who taught you how to whistle? How did you learn to speak with an accent?  For most people, they probably learn how to cycle through lots of conscious practice.  That’s self-directed learning. Well, as for whistling, I remember very clearly that I tried learning to whistle by imitating my brother, but only wind came out of my mouth even after many attempts.  Conscious effects in learning how to whistle failed!  Until one day, while eating very spicy chilli, I curled my lips and sucked in air, and out came the whistling sound!  That’s incidental learning!  As for learning to speak with an accent, it can only come about when you socialise with the particular group of people long enough, and sub-consciously you pick up the way they speak and intonate and so on.  That’s tacit learning.

One thing is for sure: you will not be given any certification for such learning outcomes!  But does that mean that what you have learnt is of not much value? How informal learning can indeed affect you and your employability …

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