10 Characteristics of informal learning

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Varsha Verma

Learning is everywhere – you can learn from nature, you can learn from reading or watching TV, you can learn from other’s conversations…infact you can learn from just anything and everything. So, what are the main characteristics of informal learning?


Informal learning starts even before a child is born. It is a scientific fact that children start learning in the mother’s womb. Even our epic Mahabharata says that when Abhimanyu (son of Arjuna and Subhadra) was in his mother’s womb, Sri Krishna used to take Subhadra on excursions and narrate many adventures to her. One day, Krishna was narrating his experience with the technique of Chakra-vyuha (military formation) and how step-by-step the various circles could be penetrated. Abhimanyu was listening carefully to the same. Unfortunately, Subhadra fell asleep before Krishna could complete his narration. Seeing her dozing off, Krishna stopped reciting and Abhimanyu could not hear the last part, which later became the cause of his death in the battle of Mahabharata.

So, learning is everywhere – you can learn from nature, you can learn from reading or watching TV, you can learn from other’s conversations…infact you can learn from just anything and everything. So, what are the main characteristics of learning?

  1. Informal learning in unorganised: There is no structured program for this kind of learning. When a parent teaches the child to brush his teeth properly, it is informal learning. Similarly, when a teacher makes children stand in a queue, it is also informal learning.
  2. Informal learning is often spontaneous: When a teacher is in a class and he/she comes across a word in the book, which a child cannot understand. He/she recites various situations where the word can be used. That is informal learning and it is spontaneous. The teacher might not have prepared to teach children this way.
  3. There is no pressure to learn: Have you noticed the thrill and excitement on a child’s face when he is learning to play a game or a toy with his/her friend? The child is eager and attentive. There is no pressure to learn, yet he learns it with zeal.
  4. No curriculum for informal learning: There are no set rules, you can teach whatever way you like. Mostly it depends on the teacher’s experience.
  5. No set time for informal learning: You can learn at any time of the day. Even when a parent recites a story to a child before sleep, he is learning something.
  6. Anybody can be an informal teacher: If a child learns from his/her peer, that child is the teacher. Anybody can give informal education – father, mother, grandparents, sibling, friends and of course the teachers.
  7. There are no classrooms; world is your classroom: The learning can happen anywhere — you can learn from nature, you can learn in your iiving room, your bedroom, while travelling, while playing —it is endless. The world is your classroom, literally!
  8. One can’t quantify informal learning: Since there are no exams, we cannot quantify informal learning. But, this learning can be used in life situations and children can be better adept to face life challenges.
  9. Informal learning: good for child’s development: Before a child starts formal school, he is sent to playschools to learn basic things. The environment is informal and a child learns while playing. Similarly a child learns to talk even before he goes to playschool. Thus, informal learning helps a child to cope with formal learning as well
  10. It is a lifelong process: Informal learning goes hand in hand with formal learning and when the formal learning stops, informal learning takes the frontseat. For example, when computers became the way of life, adults who had never seen a computer before, learnt it from their children or even grandchildren to stay abreast with the technology.

So, the importance of informal learning cannot be undermined. It is what keeps us mentally active, makes the world interesting and keeps us abreast with the changing times.


Varsha Verma is Associate Editor at The Progressive School. She has 20 years of experience in writing and editing. An MBA in finance and a graduate in science, she has an eye for detail and reading and writing has been her passion since childhood and she is happy to pursue her passion as her profession.