Children’s conceptions and experiences of their informal learning: expanding the boundaries of learning

Year: 2019

Author: Bourke, Roseanna, O'Neill, John, Loveridge, Judith

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Life-long and life-wide learning have been dominant in official policy discourses that prescribe curriculum and assessment priorities and, increasingly, in every day talk about learning. Despite this, the phenomenon of everyday or informal learning has been largely invisible. As a consequence, we lack a well-developed language for talking about informal learning. Given the multiple contexts in which children live and learn in their everyday lives and the diverse range of people and cultural tools with whom they may engage it is important to develop conceptual frameworks and vocabularies forinformal learning. In an era when many state education systems have become oriented towards the measurement of individual learning outcomes we urge a more complex and critical understanding of informal learning so as to challenge hegemonic conceptions of learning as that which takes place in formal settings using preferred pedagogies and positional relations of power .

In this paper we use the results from a 3-year longitudinal TLRI-funded research programme which involved 250 children talking, illustrating and documenting their informal and everyday learning to explore what this means from a child’s point of view, and to argue that informal and everyday learning offers greater possibility to acknowledge every dimension of learning.

Children’s conceptions of informal learning ranged from least to most sophisticated, and we illustrate these with the stories children told. The five categories ranged from least sophisticated (A) to most sophisticated or inclusive views (E) around informal learning. Our analysis also revealed that each category included common dimensions of their everyday activities and settings that influenced how and why these children participated in the activities they chose to describe: relationships (How do I connect to others?); purpose (Why am I doing this?); strategies (How am I learning?); identity (Who am I becoming?); culture (Who am I? Who are we? What is important?) and affect/emotion (How do I feel?). Together, we propose that these categories and dimensions reveal the warp and weft of children’s conceptions of and intent participations in their informal everyday learning outside of school.

The young people confirm their informal and everyday learning is complex, multigenerational, and captures their identity as interested learners with their own agenda. We argue that this empirical approach provides a complex understanding of informal learning, which attends to critiques of earlier conceptualisations and may also help teachers consider how to more meaningfully support all students’ learning in school.