Research · Editorial

The social benefits to informal language learning

Decorative image

How informal language learning can allow for self-directed learning experiences.

Language learning can be achieved in various forms, with advancements in smart technology having allowed for greater access to informal ways of learning.

Along with the increased immersive learning experiences that can come from intelligent assistants and informal learning, self-directed ways of learning can provide for groups to have control of their own learning in a social manner. From discussing in groups about shared interests in a foreign language to exploring new topics, informal learning methods provide students with more agency over the direction of their learning.

Discussing the opportunities for shared, social learning, Dr Agnes Kukulska-Hulme, Professor of Learning Technology at The Open University, compared the activities of formal, classroom-based learning in relation to informal out-of-class activities for a language learning context.

Dr Kukulska-Hulme stated:

"Increased informal learning is very social, as there can be groups of people who have similar needs will get together and engage in shared learning."

"While in-class activities are structured by the teacher and led by the teacher, anything that happens outside of class gives more agency to learners to connect their daily lives to what they study. The question is how to organise and structure learning in order to ensure that teachers and students are properly rewarded and remunerated for the work that they do outside of class, which is very challenging."

"In our research we have often found that teachers considered this [informal learning] work voluntary and outside of their core work hours."

While existing research has shown that the informal learning can allow for educators to design activities that fit within a sustainable learning framework, next steps in research will explore how informal learning can be increased at a scale which can expand the use of the methodology while maintaining the social benefits.

Dr Kukulska-Hulme added further:

"What we have found is that this type of learning can work fine at the current scale, but what is interesting is what would happen if the style of learning was expanded to increase on a larger scale people would need to understand the benefits much more."

"The benefits would need to be articulated and demonstrated better for it to become a more accepted way of organised learning. I think it is the way forward, and some countries have been more willing to understand that learning can be project based, bringing together different subjects, and allowing learners to be more at the centre of interest-driven learning."

"The notions are so interconnected - informal learning - interest-driven. Self-directed, self-regulated, self-determined learning, these are some of the underpinning theoretical stances that inform this as well, as a way for learners to self-regulate their learning."

To keep updated with further research in informal learning, stay up to date on the IET website. If you want to implement informal learning practices with your language teaching, contact our experts.