The Informal Learners Toolkit

Informal learning doesn’t really require much more than a certain intellectual curiosity. Isaac Newton changed the world with not a whole lot more than just what lay between his ears.


But there are some things, a toolkit if you will, that enable informal learning. What follows are some of the things in my informal learning toolkit. I’m anxious to hear what’s in yours. Please comment if there’s something in your informal learning toolkit, that I haven’t listed here.


But first some definitions of informal learning, non-formal learning and formal learning just to give the discussion some shape. These definitions come (more or less) from ERIC, the Educational Resources Information Center, a very large US government database of all things educational.


Informal learning: Casual and continuous learning from life experiences outside organized formal or nonformal education. 


Non-formal learning: Organized education without formal schooling or institutionalization in which knowledge, skills, and values are taught by relatives, peers, or other community members.


Formal learning: Organized education from schools or other institutions that typically leads to some kind of academic recognition.


My toolkit is grouped into two categories: Stuff made of neurons and stuff made of atoms (I know, I know. neurons are made of atoms. But you get my point).


Atomic Tools: 

  • Learner’s Journal—Really want to capture something? Write it down for the now and the forever.
  • iPod—All but indispensable for informal learners on the go. Also helpful on the train or bus to tell people to bugger off.
  • Recorded Books—Learning aurally really gets in your head.
  • Kindle—It’s probably too soon to say for sure but increasingly it looks like Amazon’s innovations and marketing muscle have effectively whipped the electronic book bugaboo.
  • Live Lectures—Still the best way to learn in the company of others.
  • DVDs—Whether we’re talking documentaries, instructional offerings, or something else, a well-made video is a wonderful aid for informal learners.
  • MP3 Recorder—Inspiration often strikes in the car or other places or times when a pen and a learner’s journal aren’t convenient to use. So carry an MP3 recorder or tape recorder.
  • Computer
  • Books and Reference Materials
  • A Technique for Memory and Recall—It is possible to remember things forever with nearly 90 percent recall. But it ain’t easy.
  • A Mentor or a Tutor—Wait, you say. A tutor takes this out of the scope of informal learning and into the realm of non-formal or even formal learning. Maybe. But part of what defines informal learning is how it’s rewarded. Informal learners commonly learn for the joy of learning. If you take piano lessons from a teacher because you love the piano and not because of the gold stickers the teacher may give you, you’re probably still learning informally.

 Neuronal Tools  


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