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Informal Learning


"Every student learns all the time, both with us and despite us" (Ewell, 1997a, p. 4).  Informal learning is implicit learning, which means it is derived from "direct interaction . . . and a range of cues given by peers and [instructors] that go well beyond what is explicitly being 'taught'" (Ewell, 1997b, p.7).

Checklist of Observable Behaviors

___ 1.  Implicit learning (Ewell, 1997b, p.7): Learning can occur in any life situation; opportunities to learn often are not school-based. They may occur in addition to the content being taught. The student has the ability to recognize and to make sense out of a learning situation that is not necessarily conducted within a classroom.

___ 2.  Field trips (Bransford, Brown, & Cooking, 1999, pp.19-21): The student interacts with the environment with the purpose of  exploring and learning.

___ 3.  Learning centers (Bransford et al., 1999, pp.19-21): At centers created within the community, students can apply and practice theoretical knowledge.

___ 4.  Apprenticeship (Ewell, 1997b, p.7): The student learns from exposure to and the supervision of a mentor, for example, in  job shadowing and school-to-work programs.


           Bransford, J., Brown, A., & Cooking, R.(Eds.). (1999). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. National Academy of Sciences [On-line]. Available:

            Ewell,  P.  T.  (1997a, December).  Organizing for learning: A new imperative.  AAHE Bulletin, 50(4), 3-6.  [2000, May 17]. 

            Ewell,  P.  T.  (1997b).  Organizing for learning: A point of entry. Draft prepared for discussion at the 1997 AAHE Summer Academy at Snowbird.  National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS). Available:


A popular learning center for early childhood classrooms is a housekeeping center.  To create a housekeeping center, a teacher sets aside a certain area in the classroom to create a setting that may resemble students' home environment.  The area is filled with familiar materials, furniture, and tools. Objects that are not so easily recognized may also be included.  The students are given the opportunity to work in small groups in the space to learn to manipulate and properly use all of these tools.  They will often use a trial-and-error method to complete their task until they are successful.  In this setting, students informally learn how to interact socially and learn about the processes that occur in a household environment as well as the workings of household tools.


            Martin, T. (2000). Informal learning example. INTIMEProject: Preparing tomorrow's teachers to use technology. Cedar Falls, IA: University of Northern Iowa.