Informal learning is one of three forms of learning defined by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Informal learning occurs in a variety of places, such as at home, work, and through daily interactions and shared relationships among members of society. For many learners, this includes language acquisition, cultural norms, and manners.
In informal learning, there is often a reference person, a peer or expert, to guide the learner. If learners have a personal interest in what they are informally being taught, learners tend to expand their existing knowledge and conceive new ideas about the topic being learned. For example, a museum is traditionally considered an informal learning environment, as there is room for free choice, a diverse and potentially non-standardized range of topics, flexible structures, socially rich interaction, and no externally imposed assessments.
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While informal learning often takes place outside educational establishments and does not follow a specified curriculum, it can also occur within educational settings and even during formal learning situations. Educators can structure their lessons to directly utilize their students informal learning skills within the education setting.
In the late 19th century, education through play began to be recognized as making an important contribution to child development. In the early 20th century, the concept was broadened to include young adults but the emphasis was on physical activities. L.P. Jacks, also an early proponent of lifelong learning, described education through recreation: “A master in the art of living draws no sharp distinction between his work and his play, his labour and his leisure, his mind and his body, his education and his recreation. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence through whatever he is doing and leaves others to determine whether he is working or playing. To himself, he always seems to be doing both. Enough for him that he does it well.” Education through recreation is the opportunity to learn in a seamless fashion through all of life’s activities. The concept has been revived by the University of Western Ontario to teach anatomy to medical students.
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