More about Formal and Informal Learning

Karen, one of the Learning to Learn case studies, seems to show her own combination of deliberate and accidental learning in this video clip:

Download this video clip.Video player: Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)
Skip transcript: Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)

Transcript: Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)

I left school when I was 18 and I started work the day after. I had no high school diploma. I got a job as an office assistant making minimum wage. My first assignment was filing documents, and I realized that I didn’t even know my alphabet, so I found a copy of the alphabet and I stuck it to the wall. My manager asked me about it and I admitted that keeping a copy of the alphabet stuck to the wall helped me. And he said, “OK. That’s a good idea.” I would rather have the files be in the correct order rather than have them wrong!

End transcript: Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)
Karen (her own words are spoken by an actress)
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Activity 3.12: What Type of Learning?

Timing: You should allow about 20 minutes for this activity.

This is a required activity for Challenge 3: The Theory Challenge.

This formal and informal learning quiz [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] will help you to develop your understanding of the difference between formal and informal learning and the possible advantages and disadvantages of each type of learning. Once again, it features an animated film featuring Tina and her friends.

When you’ve completed the quiz, return to this section of Unit 3.


Hopefully you were able to identify the different types of learning mentioned by Tina, Alberto, Mike, and Ellen when they explained to their friends how they had learned to dance. Don’t worry if it took you several attempts to complete the quiz. As you already know, repeating a quiz can help to strengthen your learning, prompting you to think more deeply about the quiz content.

In the next activity you will be required to think about informal and formal learning in the context of your own learning experiences. You will also learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of different types of learning.

Activity 3.13: Your Learning—Informal or Formal?

Timing: Allow about 15 minutes for this activity.

To help you see how your learning has involved both formal and informal learning, use the matrix that follows to sort the examples of learning you identified in Activity 3.11. Feel free to add more examples. The matrix has two axes—informal/formal is the horizontal axis, running left to right, and the vertical axis represents alone/with others, running from top to bottom. This creates four quadrants or boxes:

  • Top left: learning informally and alone.
  • Top right: learning formally and alone.
  • Bottom left: learning informally with others.
  • Bottom right: learning formally with others.

Try to find an example of your learning that fits into each quadrant. We have put one example in each box to get you started. As you complete the matrix, try to recall what each experience was like. Did you enjoy the situation and learn well, or not?

Figure 3.6 Types of learning
Figure 3.6 Types of learning


All types of learning have advantages and disadvantages.

Formal learning may have the advantage of offering a structure that can be reassuring to learners. For some people, there is nothing worse than being uncertain what comes next. Other people find this structure stifling and relish the opportunity to explore aspects of a topic in their own way and at their own pace.

It is good to have to have learning opportunities that suit our needs. We may want to get a degree that formal learning might bring. At the same point in our lives, we may enjoy developing a hobby through informal learning. It is often surprising how what we learn informally can help us appreciate aspects of formal learning. The opposite can happen, too.

The next section of this unit explores two further theories. These theories are:

  • Communities of practice.
  • Student approaches and strategies. A Celebrity Informal Learner

3.2.7 Communities of Practice