The Key Characteristics of Informal Learning

With the understanding of the two types of learning, formal and informal, the key characteristics of informal learning are not so much contrasting when it comes to making comparisons between the duo. As an involuntary and inescapable part of daily life, informal learning is the process that only goes on outside the four walls of schools or any other structured institutions.

Because of the fact that it takes place mostly at home or at gatherings of friends and families, or in communities that are far from being guided by academic principles, it is characterized by a low degree of planning and organizing in terms of the learning context, learning support, learning time, and learning objectives.

However, it differs from formal learning, non-formal learning, and self-regulated learning, because it has no set objective in terms of learning outcomes, but an intent to act from the learner’s standpoint. The major methods of impartation in this type of learning are trial and error or learning-by-doing, modeling, feedback, and reflection.

For better understanding of informal learning as major part of the two types of learning or education, this content has garnered adequate points on outlining the key characteristics of informal learning for useful comprehension:

Not Organized

There are no set formulas or guidelines. Examples of informal learning include activities such as teaching your child the alphabet, or how to brush his or her teeth. There is no prescriptive program of study for this.

No Classroom

The world is your classroom in information education. It is a myth that learning occurs in the school or inside the class. In informal education, this can happen in any place like your house, park, street or community. It is tough to assess informal learning as there are no particular tests for measuring it. The lifeblood of informal education is conversation and interaction.

Accessible Learning

People can learn from anywhere and anything in informal education. It may take place at any moment. The desire to learn makes the person gain some knowledge. This kind of learning is accessible to everyone. Observation is the investment that learners have to put in to get a skill or work.

Natural Motivation

Unlike the formal learning environment of school, informal learners are often eager and attentive. A teenager showing a friend how to find an “Easter egg” in a video game is an example of informal learning. The gamer really wants to find out how to achieve his goal, so he embarks on a journey to figure out how. His friend becomes his teacher.

Lifelong Learning

Informal learning is a lifelong process. It does not end when a child enters school and the formal system “takes over”. On the contrary, children continue to learn at home. As we get older, we learn from our friends. As we enter the workforce, we learn from our co-workers.

Into retirement, we still learn from friends and also from those younger than us. An adult learning to read and write from a volunteer literacy tutor is one example. A retired office worker learning from her grandson how to use an iPad is another example.

No Boundaries

Another great feature of informal education is there are no boundaries for learning. No organizational structures like schools or colleges are necessary. Instead, anyone can learn from anything. Hence, interstate and inter-country education become possible. Also, there are no exams for which you have to cover a particular subject or thing.

Read Also: The Process and Characteristics of Learning


That informal learning is served inside the plate of spontaneity makes this one of the key characteristics of informal learning. Learning happens anywhere, any time. The learner is inspired to learn because of an immediate desire to know how to do something or understand a topic. Or an informal teacher sees an opportunity to share their knowledge or wisdom with someone else.

For example, we were recently standing in line at the airport waiting to go through security. There was a family in front of us. The father, who was holding the hand of his young son, who was about seven or eight, used the posters on the wall of the security area to teach the boy to read new words.

The boy sounded out the words and they talked about the content of the poster. This not only helped to pass the time during a long wait, it was a great example of spontaneous informal learning.

Facilitation of Child’s Early Development

Learning your mother tongue is an excellent example of informal learning. Imagine if a child were not exposed to any language for the first 5 years. How difficult would that child’s development become? It is an experiment that, as far as I know, has never been done. It would be considered too risky and unethical.

Everything a young child learns at home is informal learning, from how to brush their teeth to how to say the alphabet to good manners. Without informal learning, we would never be able to cope in a formal learning environment.

Focuses on Experiences

It is one of the best characteristics of an informal education system. Informal education creates an environment where everyone will learn from each other’s experiences. Here, teaching can be implicit though the activity depends on any learning. It is not about teaching complex things and providing skills. It involves giving tools to do materials.

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