Cover Image for Schugurensky, D. (2000). The forms of informal learning: towards a conceptualization of the field.

Schugurensky, D. (2000). The forms of informal learning: towards a conceptualization of the field.

Reading log of The forms of informal learning: towards a conceptualization of the field. (Schugurensky, 2000) to help better understand the definition of "informal learning" in particular in the relation with similar terms, such as formal learning and nonformal learning. (Why are their names this confusing :/)

What is informal learning?

  • Informal learning is learning that takes place outside the curricula in formal / non-fomal educational institutions.

  • Informal learning is not structured (by others at least) and has no educator

  • Note1: What is non-formal educational institutions?

    • all organized educational program that takes place outside the formal school system
    • there are teachers and curriculum, sometimes also a diploma upon completion.
    • eg. driving school, tennis courses, cooking classes
  • Note2: it occurs “outside of the curricula of educational institutions”, not “outside of educational institutions”.

    • Informal learning can happens in educational institutions as well independently from the intended goals of the curriculum.

Three types of informal learning

The author suggests categorizing informal learning into three different forms based on the intentionality and awareness of the learning experience.


Table 1: Three forms of informal learning(Schugurensky, 2000, p3)

1. Self-directed learning (Intentional, conscious)

  • This type of learning refers to learning projects done by individuals without the support of an educator (eg. teacher, instructor and facilitator) but possibly with the assistance of a resorce person who does not regard themselves as an educator.
child A toddler decides that she wants to start putting her socks on by herself, and after many attempts finally succeeds.
formal school environment A group of high school students enrolled in a conservative school and living under a military regime organize themselves in a clandestine study group to learn about political economy, and meet regularly to discuss readings.
historical/social issues A person wants to learn more about a historical event, and to do so reads books and archival documents, watches movies and videos, goes to museums and talks to people who participated or witnessed those events.
acquisition of a particular skill A group of friends wants to make a special dish for dinner, and then looks for a recipe in a cookbook or on the internet, and calls the grandmother of one of them to clarify a doubt.
local politics A group of neighbours wants to get their street paved, and then set out to learn collectively the different steps that they must take to influence municipal decision-making, reading documents, talking with councillors, meeting with leaders of other neighbourhoods, etc.

(Schugurensky, 2000, p3)

2. Incidental learning (Unintentional, conscious)

  • This form of learning refers to the learning experiences where learners realize that they have learned something after doing something that was undertaken without any intention of learning.
child A toddler touches a hot iron and immediately learns that it is not wise to do it again.
formal school environment A teacher coming from a traditional teacher training program starts working in a progressive school and after enough exposure to this environment begins to challenge some of the initial assumptions about teaching, learning and the curriculum.
historical/social issues A person is watching the news and there is a documentary about the unfair treatment that an ethnic group received during a particular period, a historical fact that the viewer was unaware of before.
acquisition of a particular skill A group of friends are at a party and a child is choking. One of the parents applies first aids and the child stops choking. Members of the group ask some questions about the procedure and the physiological reasons behind it. They become immediately aware that they learned something new that they could apply if required.
local politics A group of neighbours participate in local democracy, and through this process they learn about municipal politics; although they didn't join the process with a learning objective in mind, they realize that they have gained new skills and knowledge that allow them to participate more effectively in democratic deliberation and decision-making.

(Schugurensky, 2000, p4)

3. Socialization (Unintentional, unconscious)

  • This learning refers to the internalization of values, attitudes, behaviours, skills etc. in everyday life.
  • Even though this form of learning occurs unconsciusly at the time of learning experience, learners can still be aware of that learning later through retrospective recognition.
    • eg. by being exposed to a different social environment, by being asked about their learning experience
child A toddler learns to speak a first language, or a child acquires eating habits (e.g. not to eat insects), without being aware that those were learning processes in which imitation played an important role.
formal school environment An elementary school teacher has different expectations of male and female students, and treats them differently, and neither the teacher nor the students are aware of the impact of the hidden curriculum in gender role socialization.
historical/social issues A person lives in a racist (or classist, sexist, homophobic, etc.) environment and has both a negative perception about people of colour and discriminatory attitudes, and assumes that perception as part of objective reality, not as a process of learned socialization.
acquisition of a particular skill A group of friends meet regularly to play a particular sport or game, and after many years become particularly skilful, without noticing that it was a long learning process.
local politics Residents attend regular neighbourhood meetings in which the professional politician listens to demands and promises favors in exchange for votes; after many years of these practices, the culture of clientelism is rooted in both politicians and residents, but it is so ingrained in everyday practice that people assume that such is the only natural way to do politics.

(Schugurensky, 2000, p4)


Schugurensky, D. (2000). The forms of informal learning: towards a conceptualization of the field.

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