CHAPTER 12

Informal Learning

Learning environments can be thought of as a spectrum. At one end, we have the more traditional notion of learning, known as formal learning, where instruction is structured, grounded in curricula, teacher-led, and generally occurs in a school setting.1,2 On the other end lies informal learning, learning that often occurs spontaneously based on our own interests and curiosities.3,4,5 This form of learning does not have a corresponding curriculum or hours of operation; it happens as we drive around town, meet new people, observe others and events, engage in new experiences, peruse parks and museums, and follow our natural curiosities. Informal learning is especially critical for children as they explore, play, and make sense of the world—they begin to conceptualize things like social and cultural conventions, properties and processes of the natural world, and spoken language vicariously through observation of others. Somewhere within this spectrum we could make delineations, such as semiformal learning, to define activities such as after-school programs and summer camps; however, for the sake of simplicity, we will use the formal–informal dichotomy, where informal learning also encapsulates semistructured activities that occur outside of school hours.

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