informal learning: introduction

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In October 2007, the Learning & Teaching Institute (LTI) at Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) began a 12-month investigation into students’ experiences of informal learning. The primary aims of the work were to:

·         develop an understanding of different patterns of informal learning that take place across the institution – for example, how do students use their time on campus between lectures, seminars, and other scheduled activities? how do they use their time outside the institution for informal learning activities?

·         examine how the institution can support students’ informal learning through effective provision of space, resources, and integrated online and face-to-face activities.

This report summarises the work conducted during the project, and makes recommedations about recommended actions and future investigations.

What is informal learning? Informal learning isn’t a new phenomenon, but its importance is being more widely recognised and acknowledged across a variety of sectors. There is little agreement about what actually constitutes informal learning: for Cross (2006) it is the “unofficial, unscheduled, impromptu way most people learn to do their jobs” but is nevertheless intentional learning. It is distinct from formal learning in that it takes place in ‘learnscapes’ rather than formal classrooms. A 2004 Futurelab report looked at informal learning with technology outside school settings and took into account the wider ‘ecology’ of learning, and how ICTs are used to support this. For the purposes of this project, we chose to define informal learning as: the activities that take place in students’ self-directed and independent learning time, where the learning is taking place to support a formal programme of study, but outside the formally planned and tutor-directed activities.

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One response to “informal learning: introduction

  1. Edward Cheng

    it would be great to see a copy of the results of your investigation. Particular area of interest is from a design perspective — in terms of establishing some principles/guidelines that are known to contribute to the success of informal learning.

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