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Related Resources

Learning Environment Design Framework
Instructional Design Toolkit

ISD Concept Map
ISD Concept Map

Formal and Informal Learning

For a larger picture, see Formal & Informal Learning.

Informal & Formal Learning

Malcolm Knowles is generally considered to be the originator of the term “informal learning” through his book published in 1970: Informal Adult Education: A Guide for Administrators, Leaders, and Teachers.

Allen Tough (1999) was probably the first to study how adults use informal learning. The next big proponent of informal learning was Jay Cross, who wrote Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance (2007).

The terms formal and informal learning have nothing to do with the formality of the learning, but rather with the direction of who controls the learning objectives and goals. In a formal learning environment the training or learning department sets the goals and objectives, while informal learning means the learner sets the goals and objective (Cofer, 2000).

In addition, if the organization (other than the training department) sets the learning goals and objectives, such as a line manager directing OJT, then it is normally referred to as “nonformal learning” (Hanley, 2008). Thus, in a formal learning episode, learning specialists or trainers set the goals, while a nonformal episode has someone outside of the learning department, such as a manager or supervisor, setting the goals or objectives.

To learn more about informal and formal learning, see Formal & Informal Learning.

Next Steps

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Cofer, D. (2000). Informal Workplace Learning. Practice Application Brief. NO 10. U.S. Department of Education: Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.

Cross, J. (2007). Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Hanley M. (2008). Introduction to Non-formal Learning. E-Learning Curve Blog. Retrieved October 19, 2009: http://michaelhanley.ie/elearningcurve/introduction-to-non-formal-learning-2/2008/01/28/

Tough, A. (1999). Reflections on the study of adult learning. Paper presented at the 3rd New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) Conference, University of Toronto: Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Toronto, Canada. Retrieved January 8, 2008 from http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/depts/sese/csew/nall/res/08reflections.pdf