Informal learning is a theme of this blog and has been an area of professional interest for the past couple of years. There is a link between informal learning and collaborative work; the latter is a key focus of my consulting. This link was highlighted by Teemu Leinonen in a recent post on networked learning, starting with a definition of informal learning:
Informal learning means learning that is taking place in every day life situation when we are interacting with the outside world or with our own inside world. Most of the learning is informal and purely accidental and random.
This is an adequate working definition, in my mind, but what I find most interesting is Teemu’s definition of non-formal learning, a term that I haven’t used much or really noted:
Networked learning can also be non-formal. Non-formal means that it is informal but with objectives. If a group of criminals are organizing a discussion group in a bar to share ideas about latest burglary techniques they are having a non-formal learning session. It is informal but with an objective.
Given these definitions, I would say that much learning in intentional online communities (such as a community of practice around knowledge management) is non-formal, whereas it is more informal in looser social networks like Facebook. My sense of this is that non-formal learning would involve mostly self-generated objectives though objectives could also evolve from the group. Formal learning would differ from these in that most, if not all, objectives would be externally directed.
These three working definitions may help in defining and explaining different approaches or strategies when working with communities of practice, work groups, professional networks or even classes.