Formal & Informal Learning

Jun 07, 2019

Listen to the podcast version here.

SUMMARY

Have you ever tried to teach your students something… and got frustrated because it just wasn’t sticking?  For whatever reason, the kids weren’t internalizing it?

Look, this is more common than you know.  One of the best ways to inspire and cement learning is understanding two related concepts.  Now despite that their names imply that they’re polar opposites, FORMAL LEARNING and INFORMAL LEARNING work together to create a depth of understanding and students’ ability to truly grasp the fundamentals of an idea or concept.

First up is FORMAL LEARNING.  And pretty much is what it sounds like.  FORMAL LEARNING is learning that takes place in a structured environment around a structured curriculum.  School, university, workshops, lectures – all these come to mind when we think of FORMAL LEARNING.

In a nutshell, INFORMAL LEARNING goes on without the student actually thinking about the LEARNING PROCESS.

When a student can take a concept that they’ve learned FORMALLY, say in the classroom… and they can supplement it and test it by using it in their everyday experience, then the learning becomes CEMENTED in place.  The understanding is deeper.

This takes INTENTION, it takes FORETHOUGHT, and PLANING.  First off, remember that INFORMAL LEARNING comes from things that students experience with their senses.  What they see, what they hear, what they touch, feel, and taste.  When you designate “free time” for your students… set up your environment so that they immediately have access to the items that support the concepts you’re teaching.  Word games like Boggle and Scrabble reinforce spelling and vocabulary.  Having class pen pals supports literacy, penmanship, and spelling.  Math and logic puzzles reinforce mathematical concepts.  These are just the ground-level junior varsity kind of stuff when it comes to INFORMAL LEARNING.

Now, with the advent of afterschool programs, we have a huge opportunity – and a duty – to make sure that INFORMAL LEARNING time is available.

So how do you do INFORMAL LEARNING successfully?  Like I mentioned before to classroom teachers -it takes INTENTION, FORETHOUGHT, and PLANNING.  There is a huge opportunity in afterschool programs to allow for kids’ INFORMAL LEARNING by NUMBER ONE: pre-planning the environment – remember kids will explore what they gather in with their senses.  Put some thought into the physical things that are available in your environment.  Do they spark students’ imaginations and curiosity?  What explicit and implicit messages are the physical things in your environment sending?  Second, INFORMAL LEARNING often happens in the context of RELATIONSHIPS.  Making sure that adult/student relationships are on solid communication ground… and maintaining the social environment so that student/student relationships are also available to nurture and continue the INFORMAL LEARNING.  Third – put some forethought and planning with your EXPERIENCES. Experiences within the program that lead students to explore ideas connected to what they learned during the school day. 

The fact is, as humans on the search for deeper understanding and knowledge, we absolutely need and must embrace both FORMAL LEARNING and INFORMAL LEARNING and we must encourage the interplay between the two.

Watch the video above to get the full training.

  

 

INSPIRATIONAL QUOTES

     

 TRANSCRIPT:

Formal & Informal Learning

Hey everyone – Rick Rood here from Transforming Teachers, Transforming Education.  Have you ever tried to teach your students something… and got frustrated because it just wasn’t sticking?  For whatever reason, the kids weren’t internalizing it?

Look, this is more common than you know.  One of the best ways to inspire and cement learning is understanding two related concepts.  Now despite that their names imply that they’re polar opposites, FORMAL LEARNING and INFORMAL LEARNING work together to create a depth of understanding and students’ ability to truly grasp the fundamentals of an idea or concept.

So, if you’re new to the idea of FORMAL and INFORMAL LEARNING, get ready for a crash course – if you’re already familiar with the concepts of FORMAL and INFORMAL LEARNING, listen in, and we’ll have some distinctions that you can take into your classroom and bolster your students’ ability to comprehend at an even deeper level.

So, let’s take a look at the two ideas – let’s define them, and, after we do that, we’ll look at how they interact and depend on each other in a kind of dance that really creates lifelong learning and understanding in the human brain.

First up is FORMAL LEARNING.  And pretty much is what it sounds like.  FORMAL LEARNING is learning that takes place in a structured environment around a structured curriculum.  School, university, workshops, lectures – all these come to mind when we think of FORMAL LEARNING.

FORMAL LEARNING is the kind of learning that leads to diplomas, degrees, and certifications.  It springs from – like I said – a structured curriculum with very specific closed-ended objectives.  And it’s usually provided in an organized, dedicated, learning environment.

Now on the other hand, INFORMAL LEARNING is the learning that occurs in our everyday lives – a lot of times seemingly by accident.  INFORMAL LEARNING is where the learner, through his or her own senses, makes observations, tries things out, either physically or with thought experiments, and makes conclusions based on things that they can observe with their five senses or by extrapolating them through their own thoughts.

Peers, social media, television, and all the other varied inputs of daily life feed the INFORMAL LEARNING machine.  Students learn and develop concepts through their own experimentation and trial and error.

In a nutshell, INFORMAL LEARNING goes on without the student actually thinking about the LEARNING PROCESS.

Whenever we pick up information or make conclusions outside of a classroom – we are engaging in INFORMAL LEARNING.

Now that we have an understanding of the two – FORMAL and INFORMAL – here’s where we really get into what we’re going to be talking about today, we can make strides for our students here.

Now, what’s been found is that FORMAL LEARNING… the stuff we get in school classrooms – is necessary because it has an agenda, and it directs our focus to knowledge and skills that will be useful and necessary to us in the future.  Knowing how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide; knowing how to write clearly; understanding the concepts of democracy and how our government works.  All stuff we know that students should understand.

But if we want the learning of these things to be INTERNALIZED by our students, if we want to strive for deeper understanding – a knowledge that goes beyond what’s going to be on next week’s test, then we need to do more. 

It’s as if all this FORMAL LEARNING is like bags of cement.  You pour it out and it’s dry, dusty powder.  You can pour enough on something to hold it in place, but everyone knows what you really need to do to make it solid is to put some water on it!

When we’re talking about learning, INFORMAL LEARNING is the water to FORMAL LEARNING’s cement powder.

When a student can take a concept that they’ve learned FORMALLY, say in the classroom… and they can supplement it and test it by using it in their everyday experience, then the learning becomes CEMENTED in place.  The understanding is deeper.

Now, I’ll give you an example from my own childhood, it’s kind of geeky.  It seems like everyone in my second-grade class HATED – and I mean HATED the seven-times-table.  Actually, a lot of them hated times tables in general… but, think about it.  Most of the times tables, they make sense… there’s a pattern.  The two times pattern was just even numbers, threes were pretty easy to do in your head… even the nines have a pattern to them.

But the dreaded SEVEN TIMES TABLE… there’s no pattern, there’s no rhyme, no reason… they’re not easy to remember.

But you see, when I was a kid, me and the kids in the neighborhood… we LOVED playing football out in the park afterschool.  And football is great, because a touchdown is worth… SEVEN points!

We played football all the time.  And because second graders are much better at running than they are at tackling… it was always a high-scoring affair.  And we didn’t have goalposts, so there weren’t any field goals to mess the score up.

The score would go seven-nothing.  Then fourteen-nothing.  Then maybe fourteen-seven.  Twenty-one.  Twenty-eight.  Thirty-five.  42.  49. 56. 63. 70. 77. 84. 91.

It didn’t take long to figure out this was the seven times table.  Our INFORMAL LEARNING – playing football over and over – had cemented that FORMAL LEARNING of the seven times table.  Here I am forty years later and, not to toot my own horn, but I’m really good at my seven times tables!

So, where does that leave us as educators?

Number one – if you’re a classroom teacher, I know that instructional time is at a premium.  But you have to absolutely consider allowing your students more free time to begin their INFORMAL LEARNING.  Now, how do you do this effectively – how do you make sure that the students’ INFORMAL LEARNING is supporting the accompanying FORMAL LEARNING?

This takes INTENTION, it takes FORETHOUGHT, and PLANING.  First off, remember that INFORMAL LEARNING comes from things that students experience with their senses.  What they see, what they hear, what they touch, feel, and taste.  When you designate “free time” for your students… set up your environment so that they immediately have access to the items that support the concepts you’re teaching.  Word games like Boggle and Scrabble reinforce spelling and vocabulary.  Having class pen pals supports literacy, penmanship, and spelling.  Math and logic puzzles reinforce mathematical concepts.  These are just the ground-level junior varsity kind of stuff when it comes to INFORMAL LEARNING.

One place where we have an incredible opportunity is in the afterschool hours.  Having been involved in afterschool programming for a number of years, I know that there is a rich opportunity for INFORMAL LEARNING.  In fact, fifty years ago, before afterschool programs came along, kids did their INFORMAL LEARNING after school while they were playing with their friends, while their doing household chores, or running through the neighborhoods and parks. 

Now, with the advent of afterschool programs, we have a huge opportunity – and a duty – to make sure that INFORMAL LEARNING time is available.

Now, one of the problems with some of today’s afterschool programs is that they’re trying to turn into like SCHOOL 2.0.  They want to double down on the FORMAL LEARNING, and the time and the space needed for INFORMAL LEARNING is often lost or minimized.

So how do you do INFORMAL LEARNING successfully?  Like I mentioned before to classroom teachers -it takes INTENTION, FORETHOUGHT, and PLANNING.  There is a huge opportunity in afterschool programs to allow for kids’ INFORMAL LEARNING by NUMBER ONE: pre-planning the environment – remember kids will explore what they gather in with their senses.  Put some thought into the physical things that are available in your environment.  Do they spark students’ imaginations and curiosity?  What explicit and implicit messages are the physical things in your environment sending?  Second, INFORMAL LEARNING often happens in the context of RELATIONSHIPS.  Making sure that adult/student relationships are on solid communication ground… and maintaining the social environment so that student/student relationships are also available to nurture and continue the INFORMAL LEARNING.  Third – put some forethought and planning with your EXPERIENCES. Experiences within the program that lead students to explore ideas connected to what they learned during the school day. 

Another, very important characteristic of INFORMAL LEARNING is that it often happens a lot through PLAY.  Studies have shown conclusively that children learn, test, and internalize concepts consistently through play, and PLAY is central to the healthy social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development of children and youth.  And that proper development is what leads to their future ability to learn and internalize knowledge.

The fact is, as humans on the search for deeper understanding and knowledge, we absolutely need and must embrace both FORMAL LEARNING and INFORMAL LEARNING and we must encourage the interplay between the two.

We’ve got to stop “teaching to the test” and start using the powerful combination of FORMAL and INFORMAL learning to create lifelong learners out of our students and create students that know and understand more intuitively and deeply.

And that starts with being more INTENTIONAL around how we use the interplay of FORMAL and INFORMAL LEARNING.

I really hope this has started you thinking about how you can, from whatever role you have in our system of education – how you can start employing both FORMAL and INFORMAL LEARNING – and most importantly, how you can use the dynamic interplay between the two to help create the next generation of lifelong learners.

If this has sparked some ideas, or you have some thoughts on how to bring more intention to the junction between FORMAL and INFORMAL learning, please leave your comments in the chat roll below.

And if you’ve enjoyed this video, if you’ve gotten any A-Has out of this – go out onto whatever social media platform you like and share this!

And as you go into your work with your students, always remember –

What you do matters.

How you show up for your students makes a difference.

And, together, we’re transforming education.

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