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Informal and formal learning contexts  

TLRP focussed upon learning that occurs outside as well as within educational institutions and a range of learning processes and practices, both formal and informal, can occur across formal and informal learning contexts. Formal learning contexts occur in institutional settings, such as schools and colleges, where learning is a major goal, whereas informal learning contexts occur in settings such as the home or workplace where learning activities may take place but learning is not necessarily a primary activity. However, much informal learning occurs in educational settings, both within and more particularly outside formal classes, and some learning practices within the home and workplace are formal, such as when learners complete assignments or undertake formal training. The idea that all learning activities may contain elements of formality or informality to a greater or lesser degree has been developed in the summary research report Informality and informality in learning by Colley, Hodkinson and Malcolm (2004) (the full report is also available).

The Richard Edwards (2005) paper Learning in context – within and across domains expands upon the idea that learning contexts can be used in various ways and frame very different learning activities and social practices. The paper argues this is perhaps most clearly illustrated in the development of distributed, blended and online learning through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the use of the Internet as a site and resource for learning and its associated network metaphors. This paper was one of a series of outputs that were produced as part of the Thematic Seminar Series on Contexts, Communities and Networks: Mobilising Learners' Resources and Relationships in Different Domains.

The Literacies for learning in FE project expanded upon how learning activities and related social practices are not bounded by a single context but emerge relationally and can move between contexts: that is, they have the potential to be mobilised in a range of domains and sites based upon participation in multiple communities of practice. In this sense learning may often be a boundary-crossing activity rather than linked to a single context. The Learning in and for inter-agency working project also focused upon how in situations where professionals from different agencies had to work together then boundary-crossing and learning to work in a variety of contexts was of critical importance. 

The Early Career Learning project also had a central focus on the relationship between learning and context. The following publication by M. Eraut, S. Steadman, J.Furner, F. Maillardet, C. Miller, A. Ali, and C. Blackman (2004) is therefore a good starting place to examine some of these issues: Learning in the Professional Workplace: Relationships between Learning Factors and Contextual Factors.

The relationship between learning in different contexts is often framed by concerns of how to mobilise the full resources of learners in specific situations: for example, how to get adults re-entering the workplace to draw upon the skills, knowledge and understanding they had acquired elsewhere: see, for example, Recognition of tacit skills and knowledge: sustaining learning outcomes in workplace environments by Karen Evans and Natasha Kersh (2004). Questions about how to conceptualise the relationship between learning and context becomes even more challenging when the focus is upon learning across the life course: Learning Lives: Learning, Identity and Agency in the Life Course.

The Home-School Knowledge Exchange and Transformation in Primary Education project focussed on the importance of home-school relationships in supporting the learning development of pupils, while the Vicarious Learning and Case-Based Teaching of Clinical Reasoning Skills projects tracked the learning of trainee speech and language therapists while making diagnoses of 'virtual patients'  and in subsequent discussions of difficult topics with other students or tutors. Both these projects too were therefore looking at learning that spanned informal and formal learning contexts.

Publications related to the general theme of formal and informal learning contexts are listed below:

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