A lot of the educational experiences that you go through in life are not in the educational systems like schools. They are in the experiences you go through in work, in play, and with family.
While you actively and consciously focus on what you are learning while in school, it is easy to forget that a large chunk of the things we learn are done so informally.
What exactly does informal mean when it comes to education? It is the kind of learning that occurs outside of systemized education. There is not a structured curriculum to follow. There may not be an area of study.
This is the kind of learning that occurs in the workplace. You show up your first day on the job having an idea of what it takes to perform your duties, but you must pick up on what actually goes on in the environment. You have to be able to take your ideas of what you are supposed to do and adapt them to what is actually happening. You find out things about people that you had not before, and because of this you begin to form an idea of these kinds of people.
In play, you learn things about those in your social circle. You learn how to communicate with friends. You learn about emotions, about humor, life, and love. You form ideas in relation to these experiences.
And lastly, you learn informally with family as well. You pick up on the habits of your parents and siblings. You find yourself interested in similar things. There is no doubt that family has a profound impact upon your learning.
Your Own Ideas
While this informal learning is going on, you are forming opinions, picking up on observations, and reflecting on what happens around you. This effects your future behavior. You may find that you have to stern with some kinds of customers if they are trying to scam you out of money for your product. You may find you have to be accommodating with others in order to keep good relations.
These behaviors change either under your awareness or not. Many of the traits, dispositions, and habits you pick up from family go unnoticed in your daily experiences.
It is important to realize how much these informal learning experiences can have an effect on your viewpoint. Most of the learning that you go through after graduation will be in this fashion. If you do not pay attention to what is going on and how your behaviors are changing, then you may find yourself eight years down the road with unwanted habits.
Critical Thinking and Reflection
In my recent article on Thinking and Suggestions, I explained that your mind has a tendency to offer solutions to problems you have in daily experience. While these are useful, they can also be dangerous if you always rely on them.
Relying on initial suggestions is especially dangerous when you are learning informally. If you remain unconscious of the things that you are picking up on each day, then your behavior will change without you being the least bit aware.
The informal learner must be careful of falling into this habit. While it takes more energy, the best route is to cultivate a habit of becoming aware of how what you are experiencing is affecting your though processes. You may be surprised at what you realize.
How important is critical thinking in informal learning environments? It is, well, critical. It is your defense against the endless waves of false information that you meet on a daily basis.
Without this ability to think critically, you merely adapt to what is going on around you. While this doesn’t sound bad, for those interested in lifelong learning, it is horrible. You react to what is going on. Thinking critically allows you to be the actor. Instead of just seeing how to efficiently do your duty, you estimate whether or not the duty itself is efficient.
You are able to take a step back from your situation, instead of getting pulled into it without your realization.
- Much of the learning you will be doing after graduation is informal. There are no textbooks, no teachers. Only those who seem like they know what they are talking about.
- Unless you pay careful attention to what is happening, you will cultivate poor habits which will only hinder your further growth.
- You will need critical thinking skills more than ever after school. It will be your tool to continue your learning and growth, even when Mrs. Morrison isn’t there telling you what to do.