Informal vs Formal Learning

Posted by Debby on 19th March and posted in Teaching and Learning

One of the students in my EDU 520 class included this in his discussion of formal vs informal learning. I think he nailed it quite well!

Therefore, it stands to reason that the objective of formal learning institutions is to teach individuals HOW to learn so they can move from a formal learning structure to a more self-directed learning approach which can be applied throughout one’ s life-time. This concept makes absolute sense to me on many levels. In formal learning, the learner learns how to learn, more importantly, how to critically think, which is the ability to apply knowledge learned to any situation. Formal learning provides the theoretical foundation and “academic knowledge” allowing learners to develop how to critically think. Informal learning provides the street-smarts or common sense to life based on the socio-economic experiences one learns outside of the classroom.

~ Ed Lizotte,

An excellent example of how formal and informal learning work together:

Combining formal and informal learning happens quite often. One solid example from my own experience was a two-week documentary film course that I took at the Maine Workshops one summer. We had classroom time where our instructor showed us the mechanics of the camera and editing equipment along with lectures about storytelling and some film theory – he also had us shoot and edited daily. Near the end of the course, he sent us out into the field individually to come up with a mini documentary — about anything. We had a basic set of guidelines to follow and a 48-hour timeframe. After we shot our footage, we went back to class to edit and craft our story on film. There were no grades; instead, we edited our work and had a screening before 300+ of the Maine Summer Workshop’s attendees: photographers, actors, filmmakers, editors, lighting and grip folks, screenwriters etc. Their response to our film(s) was acknowledgement of what we learned or didn’t. I don’t have the words to express how amazing it felt to hear laughter and expressions of sympathy for my character; an A++ grade could not have competed with the reality of their feedback!

~ Stephani Roberts, 


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