Dennis W. Cheek, PhD stated and many others also state that learning is at the very core what it is to be human, it is what humans do.
One could state that learning is learning whether it is defined as informal or formal and that it is the documented achievement of quality indicators that give learning credibility. Is it tangible evidence that the learning has successfully competed a learning task or achieved a learning objective that provides the learner with the credentials necessary to provide evidence of educational attainment.
What are the specific definitions of formal and informal learning that delineates between the two? Formal learning may be defined as learning that takes place with in a teacher-student relationship, however from this definition there is clearly no guarantee that this type of learning guarantees a student the type of documented credential necessary to demonstrate that he/she has achieved the learning outcomes.
Perhaps Jay Cross gives the final definition on both formal and informal learning as:
By contrast, informal learners usually set their own learning objectives. They learn when they feel a need to know. The proof of their learning is their ability to do something they could not do before. Informal learning often is a pastiche of small chunks of observing how others do things, asking questions, trial and error, sharing stories with others and casual conversation. Learners are pulled to informal learning.”
Further definitions of informal learning are:
Informal learning is semi-structured and occurs in a variety of places, such as learning at home, work, and through daily interactions and shared relationships among members of society. For many learners this includes speech acquisition, cultural norms and manners. (retrieved from en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Informal_learning August 25, 2009)
Informal Learning – Occurs in everyday life and may not even be recognized as learning by the individual. For example, using a television guide may not be equated by an individual as having learned how to use a table. Related concepts/terms include: incidental learning.(retrieved from http://www.nald.ca/adultlearningcourse/glossary.htm#i August 25, 2009)
Fundamentally the question to be asked may be —Should we recognize or accept informal learning and if so how do we measure achievement by the student towards certain learning objectives or outcomes? Furthermore who sets these standards and how are they assessed? Is that sort of learning measurable and how? Through a review of portfolios, assessments, projects and activities?
There are many barriers to recognizing informal learning as credible and documenting achievement of learning objectives through informal learning.
There are many resources available for a learner to access in order to pursue hs/her informal learning goals. These resources include podcasts available on Itunes U, Videos on You Tube Edu Channel, MIT’s open courseware, OpenCourseWare Consortium, Academic Earth, and the learner may also want to access learning object repositories such as Merlot. We should not overlook repositories of online documentaries, the Internet Archive, and sites like Connexions.
The challenge that lies before the education community in my opinion, is how best to assess informal learning. It seems that this is a change that we cannot resist, so it will benefit the self-directed learning and educational institutions to facilitate the validation of such learning.