Yesterday I spent most of the day writing the narrative text for an online course I am developing about electrical wiring. This course is on the fast track--the whole rapid elearning process--so I had already interviewed my SME and he is on travel and unavailable for the rest of the week.
Heck I even found myself examining the electrical wiring in my own home, studying the junction boxes, examining the different types of cable employed and for what purposes. I was even itching to take the cover off of my circuit breaker box, but I thought better of it. I don't think my wife would be amused if I accidentally electrocuted myself.
That is when it dawned on me. Here I was practicing informal learning, gathering data, consulting various online resources, and searching out answers for gaps in my understanding without any formal structure. And I was doing it to achieve a work goal: the creation of a formal learning program. And that is what every instructional designer worth his or her salt does day in and day out.
And that is what informal learning is all about. It's about gathering information when you need it. My father-in-law, a brilliant engineer, has been trying to teach me about electrical wiring for years. Unfortunately without a pressing need to know the information I allowed his lectures to go in one ear and out the other. All of us have so much information coming at us during every minute of every day it is impossible to absorb and apply it all. We naturally filter out what at the moment is perceived as unnecessary. It is only when we truly need knowledge in order to use it that we internalize what we see, hear, or read.
The question is how do we develop formal learning processes that are more informal in nature and hence more likely to stay in the learner's mind.