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Abstract

We consider research and theory relevant to the notion of informal learning. Beginning with historical and definitional issues, we argue that learning happens not just in schools or in school-aged children. Many theorists have contrasted informal learning with formal learning. Moving beyond this dichotomy, and away from a focus on where learning occurs, we discuss five dimensions of informal learning that are drawn from the literature: (1) non-didactive, (2) highly socially collaborative, (3) embedded in meaningful activity, (4) initiated by learner's interest or choice, and (5) removed from external assessment. We consider these dimensions in the context of four sample domains: learning a first language, learning about the mind and emotions within families and communities, learning about science in family conversations and museum settings, and workplace learning. Finally, we conclude by considering convergences and divergences across the different literatures and suggesting areas for future research. WIREs Cogni Sci 2011 2 646–655 DOI: 10.1002/wcs.143

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