I have spent many years of my life teaching and learning in formal environments. I have tried, as much as possible, to include student choice in those environments. My middle school students chose their own reading materials and writing topics and genres. My graduate students pursue a passion project as a way to explore their own area of interest in ed tech. But, this kind of learning still happens in a formal way, with goals and objectives and some type of assessment.
Informal learning seems more open ended: the participants in the #UnisonEDU chat mentioned learning through networks like Twitter or YouTube. In fact, much of what I know about Minecraft was learned from 5th graders on YouTube. They listen to podcasts on their way to work and connect with others in communities like Reddit. They learn in face to face environments as well through EdCamps and conversations with colleagues. While it may not be built into the school day or recognized with continuing education units, informal learning is taking place in schools.
At least among the teachers…informal learning for students was a little harder for people to imagine. Teachers are, as I did with my students, finding ways to incorporate student choice and voice, but the content is largely untouchable. Informal learning suggests exploring resources without any particular goals or objectives: clicking around, pursuing various threads, letting curiosity take the lead. A plan may emerge eventually, but it will be self-imposed. Not that informal learning isn’t taking place in school: as part of student group work or during free time around lunch and recess, any time students have time to create and collaborate with their colleagues or when a structured conversation slides a bit off topic.
What do you think? Can we find a way to give kids informal learning time during the school day? Can we fit formal and informal together?