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Distance Learning Essay | Dissertationmasters.com

Distance learning, as it is known to many students, is the online learning and teaching programs offered by world class institutions of learning. Unlike traditional classroom education, students are virtually enrolled in their programs and respective classes online. Statistical data taken from the leading institutions of higher learning in the United States and United Kingdom show that the number of students registering for distance learning programs is increasing day and night. In the United States alone, the number of students taking courses through distance education has since risen from 3.9 million in 2010 to approximately 8.9 million students in 2013. Whereas distance learning is applauded for its inherent ability to reduce illiteracy amongst the Americans through promotion of cheaper internet enabled computer programs, the mode of education has been found out to compromise the quality of learning outcomes.

Although traditional classroom education remains the mode of learning which is widely practiced and offered by most of the institutions such as colleges and universities across the world, distance learning is increasingly becoming more popular in the age of information technology. Distance learning is no longer an alternative mode of learning to traditional education but a preferred mode of learning across the world. The most recent survey conducted among college students revealed that 80% of the college and university students are in favor of distance learning because of its flexibility. The subsequent popularity of distance learning is attributed to fact it is the only mode of education that gives students freedom to choose the convenient time of the night or day to take classes. Unlike the subjective traditional face-to-face education with its fixed teaching and learning schedule, the highly individualized distance learning gives students full freedom on when and what they want to learn.

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Secondly, distance learning reaches the highest number of students within the shortest period of time as opposed to the traditional face-to-face learning. The number of students graduating from various institutions of education after undertaking distance learning programs is increasing every year. Statistics show that about there are about 9 million students registered for various distance learning programs in the United States last year and the figures are on an upward trend. The flaring number of students opting for the distance learning implies that larger segments of illiterate populations are effectively reached. Consequently, the mode of learning has proven to the most effective and convenient method of combating higher rates of illiteracy across the continents. Apart from its accessibility, multitudes of learners successfully complete their courses because distance learning programs are far cheaper than compared to traditional learning programs.

Suffice it to say, there is substantial evidence that distance learning has proven to be more effective tool in promoting literacy amongst the adult populations. It is more suitable for the adult learners who are either in full time employment or committed in their domestic duties thus, cannot manage to fit in traditional mode of education with fixed schedule. With the full knowledge that the internet-enabled mode of learning takes place in the comfort of living rooms, many mature learners find distance learning more palatable because it upholds their confidentiality and privacy. In this regard, the electronic mode of learning renders education a private affair compared to traditional education that makes education a public affair. It therefore goes without saying that distance learning has adequately counteracted shame that most adult students face in their efforts to access education programs in traditional institutions.

Most importantly, distance learning programs are designed to meet the diverse needs of learners like no other. For instance, the programs are scheduled to ensure that learners who are in active job with tight work schedule, parents taking care of their children, and persons living outside the catchment areas of the learning institutions can create time and study at their own convenient time. Both the young and old; men and women; the rich and poor are satisfactorily accommodated by the distance learning education programs. In addition to this, distance learning educational programs are designed in a way that individual learners can study at their pace; students are at liberty to start, break and resume personalized studies at their own discretion. This rare phenomenon gives distance learning an upper hand above traditional classroom face-to-face learning.

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Despite the numerous gains and advantages that come with the distance education on the students' side, it has been established that learning at home behind an internet-enabled computer cannot replace face to face education existing in institutions of higher learning such as universities and colleges. On many occasions, educational experts have raised their concern on the effectiveness of distance learning on pedagogical delivery of complex concepts especially in science-oriented subjects such as chemistry and mathematics. According to the latest research finding, distance learning is limited to the kind of courses they offer to students. For instance, technical courses such as engineering, applied technology and mechanics that require the instructors to impart psychomotor and manipulative skills to learners could not be delivered via distance learning programs. The much desired delivery of technical courses of this nature is therefore an exclusive reserve of the traditional face-to-face education. At the end of it all, It emerges that traditional face-to-face education produces better results in technical subjects that requires practical skills.

It has been proven over and over again that there are a lot of difficulties in self-directed learning which is demanded by the online education. Many a times, students undertaking online courses do not have set schedule for their studies thus, leaving much room for distracters that altogether work to the detriment of students' academic performance. Taking into consideration that students are left to study on their own while at the same time being least supervised by their course instructors, most of the students do not see the need to delve into their studies before the examination period. The reduced contact hours between instructors and students due to exclusive use of virtual interactive platform, instructors will not be able to constantly monitor students' learning progress. In this case, the outcome of the learning process in learners is compromised because instructors often fail to identify students' weaknesses in distance learning. On the other hand, instructors quickly identify individual learner's areas of weaknesses and fix them in time to bring about desirable learning outcome in learners.

Lack of the physical interaction between students and course instructors in the distance learning programs leads to gross instructional misunderstanding. This could have unbearable detrimental effects on the accuracy and effectiveness with which learning objectives are met. Contrary to the traditional face-to-face form of education, distance learning deprives students of the adequate opportunity to be in constant contact with their course instructors. Therefore, they are bound to experience instruction breakdown from the internet learning interface. It is imperative to note, however, that distance education leads to increased incidences of cheating alongside other host of irregularities in online examinations.

In conclusion, distance learning has proven to be more convenient, cheaper and confidential learner-friendly mode of learning. The global enrolment rates in the institutions of higher learning have shot up tremendously since the rolling out of distance learning educational programs. Judging from the ongoing trends, it is evident that distance learning will continue to gain prominence over the traditional face-to-face education.


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Distance Learning: Advantages and Disadvantages

Introduction, the essence of distance learning, advantages and disadvantages of distance learning, works cited.

Computer and information technologies have significantly affected all spheres of human life. These technologies have also changed the field of education, since the improvement and development of this direction is one of the main mechanisms that make up the public life of the United States. Thus, a new form of distance learning has appeared in modern human life, which, along with the traditional form, has taken an important place in our society. This kind of training allows not only to study but also to improve the qualification level of its users.

The research paper offered to the reader is devoted to the concept of distance learning, as well as its advantages and disadvantages. The question of the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning has been in the focus of research attention especially against the background of a general quarantine, which justifies the actuality of this topic. To facilitate the preparation of this final project, the author formulates the problem in several forms of proposals, namely:

  • Analysis of the phenomenon of distance learning.
  • Analysis of the pros and cons of distance learning.

This study focuses on analyzing the pros and cons of distance learning, as well as predicting its further application. The results of this study are of practical use, because they will be of interest to students and teachers who are choosing whether to switch to remote learning.

Sawsan Abuhammad, the Assistant Professor in Jordan University of Science and Technology, in his article “Barriers to distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak: A qualitative review from parents’ perspective” (2020) states the following. The author claims that many parents have faced serious problems in the process of distance learning of their children. The author believes that the barriers that arose among the parents were of a personal, financial and technical nature. The author also states that these barriers need to be eliminated with the help of some changes, including through communication with other parents and students.

The author used the social network Facebook to recognize local groups, as well as keywords including distance learning, parents and Jordan. The author used a general qualitative method and analyzed all the messages and posts of parents related to this topic. This article was written by the author in order to describe and clarify the ideas of parents about the obstacles to distance learning during the coronavirus crisis (Abuhammad). The main audience of this article is parents, as well as persons representing the government and making decisions regarding distance learning. Thus, in the process of distance learning, many parents have various barriers that need to be overcome. We intend to use this source to demonstrate the problems and difficulties of distance learning.

Živko Bojović, Petar D. Bojović, Dušan Vujošević and Jelena Šuh, in their article “Education in times of crisis: Rapid transition to distance learning” (2020), state the following. They claim that the pandemic crisis has a negative effect on the standard of living and education. The authors believe that violation can pose a serious threat, and therefore a working model is needed that will allow switching from the traditional form of training to distance learning quickly and painlessly. The authors also argue that distance learning is acceptable on a long-term basis, if it is implemented correctly.

The authors of this article used a modeling method that allowed them to determine organizational and technical solutions for maintaining the quality of teaching. In addition, the authors used the method of comparative analysis of the survey data of students and teachers. The article was written by the authors in order to facilitate the transition from traditional learning to distance learning against the background of the pandemic and quarantine (Bojović et al.). The model developed by them has many advantages and thoughtful solutions. The main audience of this article is teachers and other representatives of educational institutions who face the difficult task of implementing distance learning. We intend to use this article to better understand the essence of distance learning, as well as its advantages.

Tim Surma and Paul A. Kirschner in their article, “Technology enhanced distance learning should not forget how learning happens” (2020), state the following. They believe that the traditional type of learning is under threat due to the accelerated process of adapting the traditional learning process to a new, remote one. They argue that modern technologies are both a danger and a chance for education to reach a completely new level.

The authors of this article used the methods of surveys and interviews to find out the attitude of students and teachers to the new form of education, and to track the progress in learning. This article was written by the authors in order to provide the importance of clear guidelines and optimal use of distance learning technologies (Surma and Kirschner). Moreover, the authors identified important principles that will help students get used to a new form of education, for example, feedback and an individual approach. The main audiences of this article are students, parents and teachers who will be interested in this information for the successful implementation of distance learning. We intend to use this article to understand the possible future prospects of the distance learning method.

John Traxler, the Professor of Digital Learning in the Institute of Education at the University of Wolverhampton, in his article, “Distance Learning—Predictions and Possibilities” (2018), states the following. The author claims that the definition of distance learning is not clear, but vague and changeable. The author considers the process of distance learning in a global context and studies the issue of adaptation and implementation of distance learning. The author believes that people should be ready for global changes, be open and aware, since changes are inevitable.

The author of this article uses observation and comparison methods that allow determining the essence of distance learning, the danger of pressure on educational institutions, as well as the importance of innovations in education. This article was written by the author in order to create a complete understanding of the phenomenon of distance education in a global context (Traxler). In addition, this article demonstrates the difficulties of distance learning application in conditions of ignorance or isolation. The main audience of this article is teachers, students and parents who want to get acquainted in more detail with the concept of distance learning in a global context. We intend to use this article to learn more about what distance learning is, as well as its goals and objectives.

The main benefit of distance learning is that it allows a person to study anywhere, but requires a computer and the Internet. The material is easily accessible and easy to handle and structure, and it also has all the necessary features that students of higher educational institutions need. In addition, the student is free to build their own individual training schedule, depending on their free time and desire to study (Lassoued et al.). The difference between classical distance learning and its more advanced form is small – the lack of personal communication between students and teachers (Bojović et al.). In this paper, the pros and cons of distance learning will be considered, but first it is required to understand the very essence of distance learning.

In the process of remote learning, students and teachers are at a significant spatial and temporal distance from each other. Teachers use a variety of computer technologies to make the process of remote learning as interesting and useful for students as possible (Schneider and Council). Distance type of education has an important goal-to expand opportunities and provide new services for those people who want to acquire new skills or change their profession. There are six main forms of distance learning, which are the most common.

  • external education;
  • university education;
  • training that involves the cooperation of several educational institutions;
  • creation of specialized institutions where distance classes are held;
  • autonomous learning systems;
  • special multimedia courses that differ in a certain informal component.

At the same time, different technologies are combined: pedagogical, informational, and often andragogic. There is a British synchronous model of distance learning and an American asynchronous one. Distance education is a new, specific form of education, somewhat different from the usual forms of full-time or distance learning (Dietrich et al.). As for the present, the real contingent of potential students can include those who are often on business trips, military personnel, women on maternity leave, and people with physical disabilities. In addition, this category consists of those who want to get additional education with a lack of time. Distance learning has several key characteristics that are important to consider when analyzing this type of learning.

  • flexible and convenient schedule of classes;
  • modularity;
  • mass character;
  • active mutual communication and a variety of communication tools;
  • the totality of knowledge and orientation to the independence of students, to the motivation of learning.

Indeed, the effectiveness of distance learning directly depends on those teachers who work with students on the Internet. Such teachers should be psychologically ready to work with students in a new educational and cognitive network environment. Another problem is the infrastructure of student information support in networks. The question of what the structure and composition of the educational material should be remains open. Also, the question is raised about the conditions of access to distance learning courses.

Analyzing the components of distance learning related to the educational institution, they can determine the structure of the network system. It should include educational material submitted in the form of programs, tasks, control and graduation papers, and scientific and practical assistance (Costa et al.). The student should be provided with fundamental printed textbooks, teaching aids, and hypertext multimedia programs (Arthur-Nyarko et al.). Additional materials may include lectures prepared by teachers on disciplines that can be transmitted via the network. In addition, distance learning provides communication in various modes, teacher advice on implementing term papers, theses, or other final work.

The essential component of distance learning is the ability to consider situations that are close to reality. In addition, important elements are creating conditions for the self-realization of students, the disclosure of their potential, the systematic learning process, the individuality of the approach (Bojović et al.). This component is the basis of academic and cognitive activity and affects the quality of distance learning.

Electronic versions of textbooks, which became the basis for the creation of distance courses and traditional books, do not solve the problems of independent activity in obtaining knowledge. These software products only create a virtual learning environment in which distance learning is carried out. Here there are psychological problems, such as inexperience, lack of self-education skills, poor volitional self-regulation, the influence of group attitudes, etc. When developing distance learning programs, it is crucial to carefully plan classes, including each of them with the setting of learning goals and objectives.

If interpersonal communication between students and the teacher is ineffective, there is a possibility of a communication barrier. If this happens, the information is delivered in a distorted form, which leads to the fact that there is a threat of the cognitive barrier growing into a relationship barrier. The barrier of relations turns into a feeling of distrust and hostility towards information and its source.

There are also many disadvantages in distance learning that should be listed and that cannot be ignored. It is worth starting with technical and methodological problems, including ignoring the psychological laws of perception and assimilation of information using multimedia tools of different modalities. There are also methodological problems, including the complexity of developing electronic versions of traditional educational materials, primarily textbooks and practical manuals.

Many students and experts believe that distance learning has many indisputable and obvious advantages.

  • A student studying remotely independently plans their schedule and decides how much time to devote to studying.
  • The opportunity to study anywhere. Students studying remotely are not tied to a place or time, as they only need an Internet connection.
  • Study on the job from the main activity. Distance learning allows to work or study at several courses at the same time to get additional education.
  • High learning outcomes. Remote students study the necessary material independently, which allows them to better memorize and assimilate knowledge.
  • Distance learning is much cheaper, since it does not require expenses for accommodation and travel, as well as for a foreign passport if the university is located abroad.
  • Remote education provides a calm environment, as exams and communication with teachers are held online, which allows students to avoid anxiety.
  • Teachers who conduct remote classes have the opportunity to do additional things, cover a larger number of students, as well as teach while, for example, on maternity leave.
  • Remote learning allows teachers to use a more individual approach to their students, as well as to devote a sufficient amount of time to all students.

Experiments have confirmed that the quality and structure of training courses, as well as the quality of teaching in distance learning is often much better than in traditional forms of education. New electronic technologies can not only ensure the active involvement of students in the educational process, but also allow them to manage this process, unlike most traditional educational environments (Arthur-Nyarko et al.). The interactive capabilities of the programs and information delivery systems used in the distance learning system make it possible to establish and even stimulate feedback. Despite the predominant number of advantages of distance education, this system is not perfect. During the implementation of e-learning programs, the following problems of distance education were identified.

  • Remote learning requires strong concentration and motivation. Almost all the educational material is mastered by a remote student independently. Remote classes require students to have perseverance and developed patience.
  • In the process of distance learning, it is difficult to develop interpersonal communication skills, since contact with teachers and other students is minimal.
  • In the process of distance learning, it is quite difficult to acquire practical skills, thus, specialties that require practical skills suffer.
  • The problem of user identification. It is difficult to track whether a student wrote their exam honestly, since the only way to check this is video surveillance, which is not always possible.
  • Insufficient computer literacy. In every country there are remote areas where there is no direct access to the Internet. Moreover, often the residents of such areas do not have any desire to learn, so it is necessary to spread computer literacy.

It is required to start by creating special Internet conferences and forums in schools that would guarantee the relative “live” communication of groups of students to deal with disadvantages (Chen et al.). It is also necessary to cooperate with traditional and distance learning, cooperation between teachers and students using a broad terminological and methodological base of psychology and pedagogy (Abuhammad). Despite all these problems, distance learning is very much appreciated by psychologists and teachers (Traxler). Nevertheless, the complete replacement of traditional education systems with similar ones-distance ones still causes some caution. One thing is indisputable – remotely studying students are more adapted to external conditions, are responsible and active, and therefore more successful in the modern business world.

Speaking about the distance form of education, it is necessary to talk about the creation of a single information and educational space. When it comes to distance learning, it is necessary to understand the presence of a teacher, a textbook and a student in the system, as well as the interaction of a teacher and students. It follows from this that the main thing in the organization of distance learning is the creation of electronic courses, the development of didactic foundations of distance learning, and the training of teachers-coordinators. It is not necessary to identify the distance form with the correspondence form of education, because it provides for constant contact with the teacher and imitation of all types of full-time training.

The dynamism of economic and socio-cultural processes in society causes changes in the field of education. Since the features of distance education are simply not acceptable for many students. Based on psychology and the methodology of independent learning, distance learning has some advantages and disadvantages. Summing up, we can unequivocally answer that distance education has a future. However, much depends on how quickly the problems of eliminating information illiteracy, technical equipment and improving the quality of e-education will be resolved. These factors arise during the implementation of remote scientific programs and projects. So, the factors and examples given above show the need to create and expand distance learning in the United States.

Abuhammad, Sawsan. “ Barriers to distance learning during the COVID-19 outbreak: A qualitative review from parents’ perspective. ” Heliyon (2020): e05482. Web.

Arthur-Nyarko, Emmanuel, Douglas Darko Agyei, and Justice Kofi Armah. “Digitizing distance learning materials: Measuring students’ readiness and intended challenges.” Education and Information Technologies (2020): 1-16. Web.

Bojović, Živko, et al. “Education in times of crisis: Rapid transition to distance learning.” Computer Applications in Engineering Education 28.6 (2020): 1467-1489.

Chen, Emily, Kristie Kaczmarek, and Hiroe Ohyama. “Student perceptions of distance learning strategies during COVID‐19.” Journal of dental education (2020). Web.

Costa, Roberto D., et al. “The theory of learning styles applied to distance learning.” Cognitive Systems Research 64 (2020): 134-145. Web.

Dietrich, Nicolas, et al. “Attempts, successes, and failures of distance learning in the time of COVID-19.” Journal of Chemical Education 97.9 (2020): 2448-2457. Web.

Lassoued, Zohra, Mohammed Alhendawi, and Raed Bashitialshaaer. “ An exploratory study of the obstacles for achieving quality in distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. ” Education Sciences 10.9 (2020): 232. Web.

Schneider, Samantha L., and Martha Laurin Council. “Distance learning in the era of COVID-19.” Archives of dermatological research 313.5 (2021): 389-390. Web.

Surma, Tim, and Paul A. Kirschner. “Technology enhanced distance learning should not forget how learning happens.” Computers in human behavior 110 (2020): 106390. Web.

Traxler, John. “ Distance learning—Predictions and possibilities. ” Education Sciences 8.1 (2018): 35. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, November 12). Distance Learning: Advantages and Disadvantages. https://studycorgi.com/distance-learning-advantages-and-disadvantages/

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Handbook of Open, Distance and Digital Education pp 1373–1389 Cite as

Informal Learning in Digital Contexts

  • Jon Dron 3 &
  • Terry Anderson 4  
  • Reference work entry
  • Open Access
  • First Online: 01 January 2023

18k Accesses

Governments, business leaders, educators, students, and parents realize the need to inculcate a culture of lifelong learning – learning that spans geography, time, and lifespan. This learning has both formal and informal components. In this chapter, we examine the conceptual basis upon which informal learning is defined and some of the tools and techniques used to support informal learning. We overview the rapid development in information and communications technologies that not only creates opportunities for learners, teachers, and researchers but also challenges us to create equitable and culturally appropriate tools and contexts in which high-quality, continuous learning is available to all.

  • Informal learning
  • Formal learning
  • Credentials
  • Personal learning environments
  • Informal social learning
  • Incidental learning

You have full access to this open access chapter,  Download reference work entry PDF


Before we examine the ways that informal learning is transformed by digital contexts, we must understand what “informal learning” means. Unfortunately, the term has been used by many authors over many years to stand in for a variety of different and sometimes contradictory ideas, approaches, and activities, a fact bemoaned by many (e.g., Eraut, 2004 ; Livingstone, 2001 ; Rogoff, Callanan, Gutiérrez, & Erickson, 2016 ; Schugurensky, 2000 ).

As Colley, Hodkinson, and Malcom ( 2002 ) wryly observed, many authors simply define informal learning as “not formal.” Others attempt contestable definitions, for instance, described informal learning as unstructured, experiential, and non-institutional, begging the question as to what structured, non-experiential, and institutional learning might be, and ignoring the fact that informal learning also occurs in institutions. Schugurensky ( 2000 ) identified three forms of informal learning: (1) self-directed learning in which a learner acts with intention and awareness of their learning objectives to acquire specific and usually self-defined knowledge competencies; (2) incidental learning in which learning occurs outside of the intent of the learner, but they are conscious of the newly acquired knowledge; and (3) socialization, in which one acquires knowledge without intent or even awareness that they are learning. However, these can occur in nonsocial learning, too, and all such ways of learning also occur in formal settings, so it still fails to identify what is distinctive. Eraut ( 2004 ) sees dimensions of implicit, reactive, and deliberative learning that broadly equate to Shugurensky’s socialization, incidental, and self-directed categories, but, as he noted, there is a fuzzy continuum between formal and informal that admits many exceptions and where counterexamples can easily be found. Though recognizing the problem, Erault sidesteps resolving it.

We believe that the fuzziness of the term’s application is due in part to a common failure to adequately explain what is meant by formal learning . Formal learning is easily recognized in its most archetypal forms as what takes place in educational institutions. However, much learning in formal settings occurs that is hard to describe as formal, enabled through encounters in corridors, inadvertent modelling of roles in the classroom, or discussions in canteens. The lines dividing formal and informal can be hard to discern even at a structural level. Is in-service training formal? Or taking part in a MOOC? Or taking piano lessons? Does it make a difference if those lessons result in grades certified by a government, an academy or by a private educational company? Some authors have used the term non-formal to characterize kinds of learning that appear to straddle the borders of formal and informal, but this negative definition simply evades the issue. Further confusion often arises through confounding informal learning with related but orthogonal terms such as self-directed learning, self-regulated learning, lifelong learning, incidental learning, implicit learning, and tacit learning , all of which may occur in a formal as well as informal contexts.

In the absence of clear defining characteristics, formal learning may better be characterized using Wittgensteinian family resemblances: common traits that may, individually, be shared by informal learning but that, in sufficient numbers, allow us to characterize the learning as more or less formal. Formal learning tends to be externally regulated: frequently in process, nearly always in goals. It usually involves rites of passage such as enrollment, progression, and certification. Formal learning usually follows timelines, rules, customs, and norms. There is often some social or external sanction involved, most notably in the form of certification, not just of learners but of their teachers, textbooks, and institutions. Formal learning often involves rituals – specified or normal ways of doing things. Formal learning normally has a purpose, often expressed as goals, objectives, or outcomes, and is nearly always intentional. The presence or absence of any of these characteristics does not define learning as formal but, when enough of them occur together, it usually is.

Informal learning may also be recognized by clusters of family resemblances. Informal learning is typically self-directed and self-regulated. It may, however, also emerge through shared practices, interests, or goals within a group or network of people (such as those in a workplace or club) or simply through acting in the world. Much is incidental, the result of performing an activity or practice in which learning is not the primary goal but a side effect of doing something else. There may be occasions when informal learners actively seek knowledge, tuition, or guidance, or where they may intentionally perform an activity in order to learn, but it is often just-in-time and short-lived. There are seldom extrinsic measures or rules for it to follow. It is rarely timetabled. It is often open-ended, without a clear beginning or end. Informal learning may occur at any time and any place, including during a formal learning event. Any of these characteristics may occur in a formal learning setting, too, but a large-enough cluster of resemblances leads us to describe it as informal.

Informal and formal learning are not mutually exclusive categories: they lie on a continuum, with much fuzziness at the boundaries. Within a learning trajectory that might, as a whole, be characterized as formal, we may engage in much learning that is not, observing things around us, engaging with others and making connections between ideas at times and places far removed from a formal setting. Similarly, formal elements may play a role in informal learning, as a catalyst, sometimes as a component of it and, sometimes, as we shall see, as a means of certifying it.

To help distinguish more clearly between them, we characterize the learning spectrum from informal to formal as having two distinct but related dimensions: incidental (intentional) and self-directed (dependent) (see Fig. 1 ). We note that the halfway point between self-directed and dependent is mostly occupied by social ways of learning, in which we are co-participants, both directing and being directed by others.

figure 1

Related dimensions of formal and informal learning

Table 1 provides some illustrative examples of values for each of the dimensions for a range of learning activities, noting that these are highly contingent, depending on many contextual, personal, and pedagogical variables that may lead to different categorizations under different conditions. A learner’s trajectory over the course of a sustained learning activity may take them through any or all of the dimensions of informality, intentionality, and self-directedness at different times as well as, occasionally, simultaneously.

Digital Contexts Are Different

It has been claimed that, when Einstein was asked for his telephone number, he looked it up in a phone book, observing “Why should I memorize something when I know where to find it?” Our “phone book” today is many billions of times bigger than Einstein’s paper catalogue. There are few facts that cannot be found within seconds, as well as countless fictions, half-truths, and abject falsehoods. Equally, we can connect with countless millions of other people. In pre-digital times, we inhabited one environment at a time and learned through our interactions with it. Now, we inhabit many environments between which we can switch at will, and much of the time, our actions are recorded, our interactions are reified, and the things we share may persist indefinitely. We are thus not just dwellers in these environments but active creators of them. Digital learning is different, and so are our learning needs as we have less need-to-know information but instead know where to find it and what to do with it.

The abundance of connections and semmingly limitless availability of information enabled by the Internet has both created new opportunities for learning as well as a greater need for it. We are not enjoying the ease and luxury of idle time as expected by early technology proponents. As the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass put it, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place. If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!” (Carroll, 1871 ). This is a necessary feature of technological change. Technologies build upon and from other technologies (Arthur, 2009 ), and each new technology creates new adjacent possible empty niches (Kauffman, 2019 ) for newer technologies to fill. Thus, technological growth follows an exponential curve and has done so over many millennia.

In order to “run faster” today, we must be able to access and use more knowledge, become better or differently skilled, and be more motivated to learn. Formal learning that occurs episodically, usually early in life, and that is often removed from its context of application, is not enough. Worse, students are often rewarded for learning as instructors intend and punished for failing to do so, especially through grades and credentials, which can reliably sap away any intrinsic motivation that learners may feel to learn more (Kohn, 1999 ; Ryan & Deci, 2017 ). Informal learning that is chosen, or incidental to other things we choose to do that can occur at any time or place, is inherently motivating, meeting needs for competence, autonomy, and, in most cases, relatedness, which are the three cornerstones on which intrinsic motivation depends (Ryan & Deci, 2017 ). Combined with the cornucopia of knowledge and connections with others that the Internet provides, informal learning is well positioned as the primary means to achieve lifelong learning. However, there is a Faustian bargain to all technologies (Postman, 1998 ). With each problem a technology solves, new problems are created.

The Darker Sides of Digital Technologies

The abundance of learning opportunities in cyberspace can be overwhelming and threatening rather than inviting participation in informal learning. Social overload (McCarthy & Saegert, 1978 ) was first measured in real-life contexts in which demands of social interaction strain and stress individuals. Although much online informal learning takes place in nonsocial contexts (such as an information search on Wikipedia), systems like Reddit, social networks, and MOOCs use both human and technological inducements to motivate learning. Such systems may create psychological stress in which the perceived demand for reciprocity, desire for social attention, or other social responsibilities become stressful and can lead to abandonment of the learning projects. Cognitive overload occurs when the learners’ cognitive, memory, or temporal restrictions preclude effective processing, storage, and utilization of that information (Roetzel, 2019 ). Systems overload occurs when the complexity of the systems – especially related to overabundance of features and options – impairs learners’ cognitive abilities and more importantly their learning efficacy (Fu, Li, Liu, Pirkkalainen, & Salo, 2020 ). The abundance of information, with no guarantee of consistency, veracity, or efficiency in support of learning, may also lead learners to confusion or inaction. Thus, provision of opportunity itself and pressure from both live peers and motivational algorithms can hinder as well as motivate informal learners.

Though individual motivation is critical, it is not the only factor limiting learning and receiving benefits from that learning. Social factors including fairness, self-efficacy, opportunity, financial resources, time, and support also impact an individual’s capacity and agency for successful learning. Issues of access to hardware and network connectivity for informal learning become increasingly important both for individuals and families and for government policy (Boyadjieva & Ilieva-Trichkova, 2018 ). Equally, the skills to effectively use ever-changing tools become a new learning hurdle (Iordache, Mariën, & Baelden, 2017 ).

Without guidance by experts and without all the resources available in institutions, informal learners using the Internet may sometimes face insurmountable barriers and difficulties. Without the continued filtering, critical thinking, expert help, process support, and resources of formal learning, informal learners may pursue false or unfruitful paths, may fail to see important aspects of what they are learning, may stumble when faced with resource or cognitive barriers, and may wander without a rudder in a sea of conflicting opinions, truths, half-truths, and lies.

In the rest of this chapter, we provide some thoughts and recommendations for introducing many of the benefits of informal learning into a formal setting and approaches to informal learning that reduce some of the risks.

Informal Learning in a Digital Context

Social informal learning.

Much learning is social in nature. We acquire new knowledge and skill by asking questions, observing and copying behaviors we see demonstrated by others, having to explain ourselves or instruct others, and observing how others react to our behaviors. This type of learning, sometimes referred to as “social informal learning,” has been the subject of considerable research in learning organizations (e.g., Crans, Bude, Beausaert, & Segers, 2021 ) and is well-supported online.

An Example: Reddit

One of the most popular tools for online social informal learning is the Reddit system that combines peer support, question and answer, game motivation, access to more knowledgeable others, and recommendation tools – all with free (ad-supported) access. Although there are many thousands of subreddits (delineating topics of interest that can be subscribed and contributed to), among the most popular are the following:

r/LifeProTips through which redditors share good ways of doing things, tips, or maxims

r/explainlikeim5, where experts give advice to beginners in simple words

r/ExplainLikeImPhD, where more detailed explanations are given

r/noStupidQuestions, where people can seek advice on any subject

r/changemyview where people post contentious opinions and others argue against them

This is just a tiny fraction of the many learning-oriented uses of the site, many of which relate to highly specific skills and interests as well as those that are more general.

In a study of subreddits that they refer to as “learning in the wild,” Del Valle, Gruzd, Kumar, and Gilbert ( 2020 ) showed “that informal learning processes … are determined by the reciprocal and transitive nature of communicative ties among their members (p. 51).” They also found “that moderators play a key role in fostering interactions (p. 51).” Importantly, rules and norms emerge from members themselves as “new users are able to see and imitate observed practices (p. 53)” and “learning becomes an unregulated, incidental, and experiential process (p. 54).” The authors conclude that factors critical to success in these environments are “visibility, easy entry, lack of testing/examination, anonymity, access to gurus and notoriety—all available with minimal reference to gender, race, formal education, or social economic status.”

Other popular learning support tools of this nature include Quora, Slashdot, Discourse, and the StackExchange family of sites. Countless other independent forums support specialist interests, from owners of a particular brand of camera to stamp collectors. Some are huge. For example, the Amazon-owned Goodreads boasts millions of members, sharing and discussing books. Other more general purpose social media such as Facebook or Twitter serve many additional purposes that have also been shown to support “learning in the wild” (Kumar & Gruzd, 2019 ).

These sites are heavily used by students on formal courses as a means to complete work set by their instructors and, often, as a means to discuss other aspects of the course. Some may disrupt formal learning: there are subreddits dedicated to support for homework (r/HomeworkHelp) as well as ways of cheating on online proctored exams (r/cheatonlineproctor), for example.

Haythornthwaite et al. ( 2018 ) developed a coding schema that “contributes a content analysis schema for learning through social media, and an understanding of how knowledge, ideas, and resources are shared in open, online learning forums” (p. 219). This eight-point coding scheme extends and expands the popular COI model (Garrison, Anderson, & Archer, 2000 ) and coding scheme to this “informal” context. They add a potentially affective component (negative, positive, or neutral explanation, and positive or negative socializing) to the COI codes that documents the increased role of affect and commitment in informal learning – learners are not induced to remain, contribute, and learn by reason of paying a large tuition fee, fear of failure, desire for high grades, or other affective challenges associated with learning in formal education.

The Power of the Collective

Many of these systems benefit from recommender systems, filters, and other tools that aggregate, analyze, and produce views of digital information, from simple “thumbs-up” ratings to full-blown deep learning systems that delve into the content of messages and seek patterns to supply recommendations. What results is a cyborg entity that employs the aggregated behaviors of individuals in a crowd to shape their environment and to provide structure and influence in that environment that we have previously described as a collective (Dron & Anderson, 2009 ). Karma points (indicators of reputation, gained by having made what the crowd considers to be useful posts in a given area) and up-down ratings on Reddit, StackExchange, Quora, or SlashDot, for example, are used to provide ranking and emphasis for posts and their answers, resulting (in principle) in higher quality, more relevant posts being displayed more prominently.

Though seldom perfect, the algorithms and interfaces often succeed in providing useful recommendations despite vulnerability to gaming by those seeking attention and to the Matthew Effect (the rich get richer while the poor get poorer) that can result in inequitable power distribution among users. Collectives can thus play roles similar to that of a traditional teacher, guiding learners toward help that best suits their needs and interests. However, they are not always good teachers. In general-purpose social systems such as Facebook or Twitter, the intent of individuals may only rarely be to learn, and the algorithms may be more concerned with driving engagement or serving the needs of advertisers than with the support of learning. This can result in, among other things, active promotion of false, misleading, or biased content that may be counterproductive to learning. As Dron ( 2002 ) found, collectives only make good teachers when the communities on which they are based intend to learn and when the algorithms are not at odds with that intent.

Self-Teaching Resources

Teach-yourself books, manuals, and articles have long been a popular genre among intentional informal learners and remain so. However, to a large extent, they have been replaced by online resources, many of which are free or ad-supported. Online informal learners may dip into hundreds of relevant articles, courses, videos, and even books, picking and choosing those that most closely match their needs, interests, skills, and tastes, providing support at unprecedented scale. Many of these mirror forms of teaching conventionally found in formal learning, including in many MOOCs that may bear almost all the trappings of traditional institutional teaching. However, without the coercion, formal enrollment, and accreditation frameworks of institutions, the ways in which they are used for learning may be anything but formal. Similarly, many governments, institutions, development agencies, and charitable foundations now support authors and multimedia companies to produce open educational resources (OERs) for formal learning that equally support informal learners.

An Example: Online Videos for Informal Learning

Few readers of this chapter will not have watched a video from YouTube, Vimeo, or another video repository to help them learn something. These videos offer tremendous opportunity at affordable cost to learn long sequences (e.g., a 20-part video series on learning to play the dulcimer) as well as short knowledge insights (e.g., how to clean a clogged drain) and ongoing routine activities (e.g., exercise classes). The 2021 Pew study of adult Americans found that 81% are YouTube users (Auxier & Anderson, 2021 ) of whom 86% found YouTube videos useful for informal learning (Smith, Toor, & Van Kessel, 2018 ).

In many ways, these videos substitute student-content interaction (watching the videos) for student-teacher interaction of the classroom. This substitution exponentially reduces cost through capacity to be used and re-used while increasing access through Internet distribution. In a 2017 study of 29,386 comments posted by viewers of 150 education-related videos, Lee, Osop, Goh, and Kelni ( 2017 ) concluded that YouTube can support a variety of learning and social affordances.

As Song and Bonk ( 2016 ) observe, informal learning must have a “fun” factor as the absence of external motivation may weaken desire to engage in hard work associated with learning challenging information or behaviors. Analyzing the behavior of thousands of participants in a MOOC, Breslow et al. ( 2013 ) found a high preference for video rather than text and images among learners. Though sometimes a more time-consuming way to learn simple tasks, videos are often more engaging than static text and images.

Rosenthal ( 2018 ) measured both students and community residents use and frequency of watching YouTube videos related to science topics – a type of “free choice science learning.” They concluded that the value of videos that enhance science knowledge of learners is conditioned by their general interest in science, the perceived value of science learning, as well as the entertainment value of the video. However, perhaps the most compelling evidence of YouTube efficacy for informal learning comes from reports from development agencies of rural villagers using the videos to repair water pumps and other equipment provided by donor agencies that, in the past, often sat idle for lack of expertise in repair and maintenance (Change for Children, 2021 ).

Supporting the Informal Learning Process

Self-directed learning has long been studied as a component of success in formal education. The converse is also true. We have decades of research on the efficacy of collaborative and cooperative learning in formal education (e.g., Johnson & Johnson, 2008 ; Slavin, 1996 ), for the use of experiential learning designs (Lewis & Williams, 1994 ), the value of a supervisor or mentor (Allen, Witt, & Wheeless, 2006 ), and other approaches that originated in classrooms. We also note the value of informal learning that arises within effective communities of practice (Viskovic, 2005 ). All such options are available online, through purpose-built collaboration/cooperation tools like Slack, Github, or email, as well as systems created to support ad-hoc transient learning networks of informal as well as formal learners (Sloep et al., 2007 ).

Supportive Physical Contexts

Contextual factors can greatly influence informal learning. For example, in a study of antecedents of informal learning among classroom teachers, Kyndt, Gijbels, Grosemans, and Donche ( 2016 ) found that just creating a space and supporting teachers gathering in a common staff room was perceived as critical for peer support, modelling, and problem solving. Similar support can occur online, through tools such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, or Slack, or more personal instant messaging apps like Signal, Telegram, or iMessage.

Having time to learn is essential. Those whose time is curtailed by external factors including employment, family, and external social demands may have problems in maximizing their informal learning. Place-based learning usually takes time, not just spent learning, but on traveling to libraries, colleges, or other locations where it can occur. Online informal learners can learn wherever and whenever they need to learn, including through mobile phones or streaming audio while traveling.

Sharing and Reflecting

Effective learning involves more than just reading, watching, engaging, and doing. Yeo ( 2008 ) argues that informal workplace learning “is an inductive process of reflection and action, often linked to the learning of others and integrated into daily routines” (p. 318). Mature self-directed learners will often perform many of these roles themselves or seek others who can help, often through online collectives and communities to which they belong. Through engagement in social media and, for some kinds of learning, feedback inherent in the process itself can fulfill some of those roles. Finally, online informal learners benefit from managerial support and scaffolding, especially for reflection and sharing Ellinger ( 2005 ).

Moore and Klein ( 2020 ) reported that instructional designers tasked with supporting learning of all types within their organization found that sharing of information and resources was perceived as the most effective support for informal learning. One of the most effective ways to achieve such engagement is thus to share one’s learning in a public or semi-public online space, thereby not only reflecting on, demonstrating, and reinforcing the learning but also inviting feedback and support. This is one of the cornerstones of complexivist pedagogical approaches ( Chap. 10, “Pedagogical Paradigms in Open and Distance Education,” by Dron and Anderson, this volume). The Internet makes such sharing easy and benefits from scale. Rather than simply sharing what we learn with those close to us, we can share with anyone and everyone, and they can respond.

The archetypal tool for open sharing is the blog. Though often considered an elderly technology in an age dominated by huge social media platforms and proprietary organizational tool suites, blogs and similar tools still account for a majority of websites, albeit that most are in the long tail. Larger social platforms with public sharing defaults such as Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube, or TikTok and less open social networks like Pinterest and Facebook are also used to share the outputs and process of learning, often including links to blogs. While only a fraction of these are intentionally part of a learning process, the scale of the Internet means that millions of posts are made every day that, directly or indirectly, contributing to the informal learning of millions (Dron & Anderson, 2014 ).

Blogs and similar tools are also common in formal learning, especially when using complexivist-inspired pedagogies (Dron & Anderson, 2014 ). By mixing the formal and informal, students may make the formal more personal and more integrated with their broader learning journeys. The persistence of content on the web allows ideas and even formal courses to grow and evolve, year on year, through contributions from both enrolled students and interested informal learners, all teaching one another while they learn (Lockridge, Levine, & Funes, 2014 ).

Tracking Progress

Informal learning, whether intentional or not, is likely to be ineffective unless the learner monitors, analyzes, and reflects on the learning process. This includes not only measuring the productivity of learning tasks but also the monitoring of affective indicators such as boredom, impatience, tiredness, etc. Digital tools can support this. In a professional informal learning context, Littlejohn ( 2017 ) believed learning analytics could be used to find expertise, see current interest and level of activity and progress, and provide “a reflective mirror on their own learning activity relative and independent of self-set goals.” The key to all of these visualizations, comparisons, and monitoring efforts is that the result be fed back in useful formats and in a timely fashion to the learner.

Most learning analytics research and development has, so far, focused on its role as an instrument of student management in formal learning. As Klamma ( 2013 ) observed, there are many biases and pedagogical assumptions embedded in its use, notably including an objectivist focus on formal learning outcomes. There may, though, be value in capturing aspects of informal learning in the workplace through analysis of interactions on mobile and social systems, and even through analysis of video recordings, using social network analysis and AI tools that seek pedagogical patterns in interactions (ibid, De Laat & Schreurs, 2013 ). Beyond academia and some workplace settings, the surveillance that many learning analytics systems require may be deemed unacceptable, especially for incidental informal learning. However, tools that support the discovery of learning interactions within social networks and forums, identifying community goals, tasks, and connections, have been used to good effect (e.g., Petrushyna, Klamma, & Kravcik, 2015 ), and work continues to automatically identify learning activities and interactions in open, online environments (e.g., Rizk & Rodriguez, 2021 ).

There are also plentiful tools to support the informal learner in more deliberately structuring and recording their learning. For example, bookmarking systems such as Pocket, Instapaper, or simpler tools built into web browsers can help learners collect, organize, and share resources of interest. Note-taking tools like Evernote, OneNote, Google Keep, or Joplin can serve not only as a repository of ideas, a learning journal, or a record keeping system but can also be used to collect and share and organize links, media, and digital artefacts. Such tools provide significant parts of what has become known as a personal learning environment (PLE). For some, the PLE is no more than a dashboard on a hosted service that brings together different tools and data within a formal system, often incorporating social media artefacts and interactions. For others, it may constitute the entire physical and virtual space that a learner inhabits.

Some researchers, such as Dabbagh and Kitsantas ( 2012 ), have explored the possibilities for PLEs to bring formal and informal learning together. They describe the value the PLE brings to the learner, as a means of integrating and accommodating what they learn in all settings. They also bring value to the teacher by making such learning visible and allowing teachers to accommodate and capitalize on knowledge of their students. Yen, Tu, Sujo-Montes, Harati, and Rodas ( 2019 ) provided compelling evidence that level of initiative, sense of control, and level of self-reflection are all highly supported by PLEs in both formal and (especially) informal learning. Analytics tools have also been used to help identify learning progress in PLEs (Klamma, 2013 ).

More recent initiatives, most notably in the conceptualization of the NGDLE (next-generation learning environment) have focused on a diversity of tools and systems that straddle the boundaries of formal and informal learning (Brown, Dehoney, & Millichap, 2015 ) and that celebrate a diversity of ways and means for learners to learn. While institutions may develop systems and tools for teaching, learners may provide and integrate their own and record lifelong learning journeys in learning record stores (LRSs) provided by institutions or, perhaps, through blockchain technologies that they own and control. This combination of PLE and institutional teaching systems results in shared ownership of the formal learning space.

Credentialing Informal Learning

Credentials for informal learning may be valuable for a few reasons. First, learners are often interested in demonstrating and being recognized for their informal learning accomplishments. Second, many formal education institutions are interested in assisting their learners and increasing market share by attracting learners with ways that their informal learning can be used to shorten and thus reduce the length and cost of their formal education. Finally, both employers and governments are interested in encouraging lifelong learning and finding ways to assess the relevance and veracity of this learning.

Though highly valued, “qualification outcomes [must] be relevant, understood, and trusted—and not just by learners, but by governments, institutions and employers” (Noonan, 2019 , p. 8). Maintaining relevance is particularly challenging in contexts of rapid technological, political, and social change. Each of these stakeholders also have come to realize that traditional institutionally published credentials are soon dated, often arbitrary in terms of what and how credentials are awarded and are not scalable, transportable, accessible, or persistent.

A number of digital technologies have been developed to support both delivery and the credentialing of informal learning. These are dealt with at length in this volume including in Chaps. 47, “Accreditation and Recognition of Prior Learning in Higher Education,” by Conrad, 69, “Digital Credential Evolution,” by West and Cheng.

Challenge Assessments

Assessment can be more completely decoupled from the learning process. The long history of challenge assessment stretches back to the University of London in the nineteenth Century, which offered examinations to students who had already acquired sufficient knowledge, whether through formal study, informal learning, or both, providing credentials for successful completion of the exam (Namie, 1989 ). Athabasca University and others continue this tradition to this day, offering a variety of ways in addition to summative exams to meet the challenge.

Storing and Sharing Credentials

When credentials for learning come from multiple sources, institutional and otherwise, it may be hard to keep a track of them, especially when they are microcredentials, badges, and similar small-scale awards. A centralized system is one effective way to do this because it provides assurance of authenticity. However, over a learner’s lifetime, centralized systems are vulnerable to possible disappearance for many reasons, including attack, insolvency, and obsolescence. In addition, as noted by Bozkurt and Ucar ( 2020 ), providers of central systems often have vested interest in gatekeeping and maintaining control of transactions and value – controls that might favor or handicap learners, groups of learners, or certain institutions. Thus, the development of a variety of blockchain applications for both formal and informal learner accreditation are distributed across the network, so they are less vulnerable to attack or decay, their authenticity is less open to questioning, and they are owned by the learners themselves.

The use of blockchain expands the usefulness and functionality, visibility, immutability, and reliability for both microcredentials and e-portfolios and formal learning accreditation. However, despite the hype and support for blockchain use in education by some educational technologists, Bozkurt and Ucar ( 2020 ) noted a variety of concerns, many dealing with the inherent technological complexity but an equal number related to throughput, manageability, scale, adoption, and the variety of chains available. These are nascent technologies that may be even more short-lived than the centralized systems they replace.

Opportunities for and participation in informal learning have expanded exponentially with increase of access to and activity on digital networks – and they will continue to expand. We also can expect that formal learning systems will increase the use of informal learning resources and tools within their formal curriculum. This will create opportunities (and pressures) to develop new systems that take advantage of the accessibility, motivational benefits, and low costs associated with informal learning while retaining the structure and credentialing of formal learning.

Virtually, all learning has an informal element, insofar as what is learned is never static, is constantly reinterpreted and reintegrated after the intentional or unintentional acts that brought it about, and is always integrated by an individual with what they already know. Similarly, much informal learning relies upon at least some formal teaching, whether it be through the use of tutorials, MOOCs, teach-yourself books or websites, or simply watching a YouTube video intended to impart knowledge.

Formal teaching has weaknesses that informal learning can redress. Much formal teaching is low in value because learners have already (whether formally or informally) learned what is being taught. While reframing, rehearsing, and reflecting on existing knowledge can be valuable, it may bore students. Much formal teaching is also actively demotivating, due mainly to the locus of control not being the learner and consequent effects on the learning. Though learners may deliberately delegate control to others from time to time (such as when watching a video tutorial), informal learning is primarily controlled by the learner.

Good teachers already know about their students’ informal as well as formal learning, giving freedom to explore areas of interest, utilizing rather than ignoring what students bring to the classroom. They learn what their students know and contextualize how and what they teach to meet their diverse needs, interests, and skills. There is therefore much to be said for helping students to develop skills of sharing their informal learning, through blogs and similar tools, in spaces that the students themselves own but that can be accessed by teachers and fellow learners, and/or through sharing via an institutional LRS. By integrating informal learning, rather than being a sage on the stage or a guide on the side, the teacher becomes a co-traveler, supporting rather than directing the learner’s learning journey. This complexivist approach ( Chap. 10, “Pedagogical Paradigms in Open and Distance Education,” by Dron and Anderson, this volume) recognizes students as active teachers of one another, as individual agents with unique needs, and as people with lives outside the classroom.

Today’s digital, networked infrastructure greatly expands the opportunities for informal learning. The means to value, assess, promote, and incorporate this learning into dominant social, commercial, and institutional structures provides both challenge and opportunity for learners, educators, and researchers.

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Dron, J., Anderson, T. (2023). Informal Learning in Digital Contexts. In: Zawacki-Richter, O., Jung, I. (eds) Handbook of Open, Distance and Digital Education. Springer, Singapore. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-19-2080-6_84

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The Physical Learning Environment of Online Distance Learners in Higher Education – A Conceptual Model

Online distance learning is offered not only in post-secondary distance education institutions but in traditional universities as well. With advances in mobile and wireless technologies, completing academic studies anywhere anytime should become feasible. Research in distance education and online learning has focused on computer-mediated communication, instructional design, learner characteristics, educational technology, and learning outcomes. However, little attention has been given to where exactly learners do their learning and studying and how the physical and social aspects of the physical environment within which the online learner is physically embedded (e.g., the home) supports and constrains learning activities. In this paper, the author proposes a conceptual model for understanding the role that the physical environment plays in online distance learning in higher education, drawing on theories and research in environmental psychology, online learning, telework and mobile work, and higher education. Several gaps in research are identified, and suggestions for future research are proposed.


Distance education has emerged as an important form of education in the last few decades ( Lee, 2017 ; Xiao, 2018 ). Institutions, such as the British Open University and Canada’s Athabasca University, have offered university education online for some years. In recent years, traditional universities have begun offering online courses as well ( Lee, 2017 ; Donovan et al., 2019 ). A recent national survey indicated that 30 percent of higher education students in the United States had taken at least one online course by distance ( Ortagus, 2017 ). The popular use of portable and mobile devices in our daily lives and accessibility to wireless connectivity at home, workplaces, and many public places should make completing academic studies feasible in multiple settings, seemingly anywhere anytime and while on the move, as some have argued ( Traxler, 2009 ; Hsu and Ching, 2015 ; Pimmer, 2016 ).

In the research literature on distance and online education, discussions have historically revolved around interactions between learner and content, other learners, teacher or facilitator ( Moore, 1989 ), and the larger online community ( Bozkurt et al., 2015 ). Until recently, little attention has been paid to one type of interaction: between learner and the physical environment. Regardless of what learning devices students use and what online instructional or learning environments they are in, students are embedded in the physical world ( Graetz, 2006 ) and perhaps surrounded by people as well. The physical (e.g., ambience) and the social (e.g., alone or with others) contexts may support or hinder online learning activities.

There is a need to understand the complex relationships between learners, their ways of learning and studying, and the environments within which they study, both physical and virtual. The recent incorporation of information and communication technologies (ICT) on university campuses has led to investigations of such relationships within the facilities of traditional universities (e.g., Fisher and Newton, 2014 ; Beckers et al., 2015 ), but little research has focused on places beyond these campuses (e.g., students’ homes). Other studies have focused on informal learning in field settings (e.g., museum; Wang et al., 2017 ). With a few exceptions (e.g., Alphonse et al., 2019 ), research in online learning has not focused on where exactly learners do their learning and studying and how a physical place (e.g., the home) supports and constrains learning activities. Such an understanding would have implications for environmental designers, educators in pedagogical design, and online distance learners.

The purpose of this paper is to propose a conceptual model for addressing the role that the learner’s physical environment plays in online learning. The emphasis is on the physical environment though the virtual online environment is always in the background. The model is built upon literature in environmental psychology, online learning, telework and mobile work, and higher education. The focus is on learners pursuing formal university education at a distance in this digital age in developed countries. The paper will begin with an overview of online distance education, several relevant conceptual models, and then the proposed model. It is followed by a description of its components and the interrelationships between the components, and ending with a conclusion, suggestions for future research, and practical implications. My hope is for this paper to stimulate research into how pedagogical design of online distance education needs to consider the physical situated environment as well as its relations to the tools the learner uses. This seems particularly relevant during the current global pandemic (COVID-19) as educators need to teach online to students in diverse dwelling conditions and living arrangements, and access to computer devices and applications and internet connectivity.

Online Distance Education

Historically, the goal of distance education was to provide post-secondary education to individuals, primarily adults who could not attend campus-based universities for personal, social, geographical, or other reasons ( Lee, 2017 ). The delivery of distance education has evolved from the use of mail (correspondence courses) to analog audio-based (radio and audio cassette tape) and video-based (television and videotape) technologies, and later, to personal computers and the Internet ( Lee and Chan, 2007 ). By using asynchronous and synchronous features, online learners can have control and flexibility in their learning regarding time and location ( Shih et al., 2008 ). However, learning activities needed to be carried out at a specific physical location with a fixed device ( Lee and Chan, 2007 ).

In recent years, the popular use of portable and mobile devices and accessibility to wireless technologies in our daily lives have stimulated a growing interest in the use of these technologies in higher education and distance education ( Park, 2011 ). Apart from mobility and context, these technologies have the capability to incorporate multiple media (e.g., videos, text, and voice) and to facilitate “spontaneity, interactivity, informality, and ownership in learning” ( Traxler, 2009 ). These capabilities have led to possibilities for developing multi-media, interactive course material, and learning activities to complete in multiple settings and while on-the-go. For example, students can use various functions on their mobile device (e.g., camera to take photos in the field) and share with other online learners, as in a graduate level graphic design course ( Hsu and Ching, 2012 ).

Given these possibilities, Guri-Rosenblit (2009) has cautioned against perceiving online learning as the new generation of distance education; bridging over the digital divide and delivering cost-effective distance education in the digital age remain a challenge. The delivery of distance education in a cost-effective manner depends on economy of scale ( Xiao, 2018 ). In addition, even though students in online distance education have become more diverse since the mid-1990s ( Lee, 2017 ), it is those students who are older ( Johnson, 2015 ) or who cannot afford campus-based education that are more likely to take online courses and programs ( Ortagus, 2017 ).

Current developments in context-aware, situated learning could possibly be incorporated in online distance learning. Context-aware learning involves students accessing or be presented with information that are relevant to the physical location when the student is physically at that location ( Hsu and Ching, 2015 ) and perhaps with augmented reality layers as well (e.g., Chang et al., 2013 ; Ryokai and Agogino, 2013 ).

Relevant Conceptual Models

Next, several conceptual models that are relevant to online learners’ physical learning environments are described briefly. The Task Model of Mobile Learning and the models of telework and mobile work address how learners and knowledge workers, respectively, carry out cognitive tasks and communicate with others at one or more physical settings via the Internet. The Behavior Setting theory focuses on user behaviors and the social rules and norms within a specific physical setting, and the Task Model of Mobile Learning touches upon the physical context of the learner. Table 1 shows a comparison of these models.

A comparison of models relevant to online distance learning in higher education (Authors).

The Task Model of Mobile Learning

Few existing models for designing mobile learning experiences and environments have focused on, or even mentioned, the physical environment as a component (review by Hsu and Ching, 2015 ). One of these few is Taylor et al.’s (2006) task model of mobile learning. This model comprises three basic elements of learning (i.e., learner, learning goal, and tools) and three essential components of mobile learning (i.e., context, control, and communication). The use of mobile technologies allows the learner to learn in an environment or context that is most appropriate and to control the learning process as well ( Frohberg et al., 2009 ). For example, the learner’s current environment may be independent or having no relationship to the context of learning (i.e., learning from anywhere). On the other hand, the physical context could be relevant to the learning at hand at a particular time (e.g., during a field trip). How tools (e.g., mobile devices) are used would depend on the cognitive rigor. Control can range from tight teacher control to full learner control. Mobile technologies can improve communication and interaction by offering different communication channels. The scale of communication can vary from the isolated learner at one end to collaboration between teams at the other end ( Frohberg et al., 2009 ).

Models of Telework and Mobile Work

In telework and mobile work, the employee’s workspace is embedded within a physical setting or multiple settings. The physical environment is considered an essential component in conceptual models of telework and mobile work. For example, Standen et al.’s (1999) model of teleworking from home emphasizes how variables in the family or personal domain (dwelling size, household size and composition, activity pattern, and social support) and the work domain (social and physical work environment, job characteristics, and organizational characteristics) interact to affect job satisfaction, performance, and wellbeing. Similarly, effective mobile working is influenced by the resources and barriers present in multiple work settings. In Koroma, Hyrkkanen, and Vartiainen’s conceptual model (2014), they have identified several physical hindrances when working in multiple settings (e.g., limited working space) as well as associated challenges presented by the social environment (limited privacy and lacking social support) and the virtual environment (e.g., limited connections and access, and lacking ICT support).

Ecological Theory

Ecological theories (e.g., ecological model of development; Bronfenbrenner, 1979 ) take a multi-level, systems approach to understanding how people’s behavior and wellbeing are influenced by their everyday surroundings and how people actively change their surroundings. The individual plays a role in the center of each context, and there is a transactional relationship between the individual and the context. The contexts are connected through a system of meso-system links.

Barker (1968) posited the concept of behavior setting as consisting of the physical milieu of a setting together with a naturally occurring, standing pattern of behavior within that setting. The traditional behavior settings include the home, schools, workplaces, coffee shops, and others. Within a behavior setting, affordances ( Gibson, 1979 ), referring to properties in the environment that can provide functional possibilities for an individual as that individual sees it, are present ( Heft, 2012 ). For example, a sofa at a public library affords sitting down to read a book. Each behavior setting has its furniture and equipment, and the participants’ behaviors within the behavior setting are regulated by social rules and norms. Participants’ choices are constrained, with the range of appropriate behaviors being maintained and inappropriate behaviors being sanctioned by the collective actions of other participants ( Wicker, 2002 ; Heft, 2012 ). For example, a learner may use the dining table at home to do studying but would need to clear the table when supper time comes. Over time, the behavior setting will change in response to input from outside or actions by individual participants of the setting ( Wicker, 2002 ).

Stokols (2018) has recently highlighted the influence of virtual features of our surroundings on our behaviors and wellbeing and how the cyberspace has had an important impact on the structure and functions of our built and social environments. The cybersphere has become intertwined with the built, natural, and social-cultural features of our environments, and contextual influences can be identified along spatial, temporal, sociocultural, and virtual dimensions.

From an ecological perspective, the online distance learner is at the center of each context that the learner is in (e.g., home, educational, work, and virtual). As the learner moves between locations, the transactional relationship between the learner and the context changes ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ).

Proposed Conceptual Framework

Building on the models outline above, I proposed a conceptual model that has three components: (1) a learner’s individual learning space (consisting of the learner, learning activities, and learning devices), (2) the physical environment (behavior setting) in which the learner is located, and (3) the virtual online environment (see Figure 1 ).

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A conceptual model for understanding the role of the physical environment in online distance learning in higher education.

At any one time, an online learner’s individual learning space is embedded within one of several traditional behavior settings (e.g., home, library, workplace, café, and public transport). The learner carries out a number of learning activities (e.g., writing an essay, communicating with instructor, and taking photos) using technological devices that the learner has (e.g., desktop PC) or carries with him or her (e.g., smart phone) and furniture and equipment provided within that setting (e.g., a desk at home, a small table at a cafe, and wireless connectivity). The learning activities can be supported or hindered by the physical and social aspects of that behavior setting. At the same time, the learner is connected to the learner’s institutional virtual learning space, peers, and online community and resources, which can also provide support or present obstacles for the performance of learning activities. Over time, if and when the learner moves from one behavior setting to the next, a new set of activities, and supports and constraints may take over. The learner has the capacity to connect to the virtual environment via the Internet.

The following section describes each component of the proposed model, and the next section describes the relationships between these components.

Behavior Setting

Unlike campus-based university students, online distance learners perform their learning activities in one or multiple behavior settings that are not necessarily designed as learning spaces ( Figure 1 ). In several studies, working adult learners completing courses, programs, or work-based learning online at a distance reported that they studied mostly at home ( Willging and Johnson, 2004 ; Nie et al., 2011 ; Selwyn, 2011 ; Alphonse et al., 2019 ). However, the workplace ( Haythornthwaite and Kazmer, 2002 ; Nie et al., 2011 ) and public spaces (e.g., libraries, cafes, hotel rooms, airports, and buses) were used as well ( Willging and Johnson, 2004 ; Nie et al., 2011 ; Bayne et al., 2013 ; Alphonse et al., 2019 ). The choice of setting(s) may have been influenced by the learner’s age, employment status, and program level, as most of these studies involved working adults in graduate programs.

In some cases, the behavioral setting itself is crucial for learning. Field trips or field work has been considered essential learning activities in some academic disciplines (e.g., geology and ecology). Depending on the learning goal, online learning activities could be designed to be carried out at local physical settings (e.g., museum) with context-aware mobile devices and applications that can detect the current context of the learner (e.g., location and time) and allow the learner to interact with the surroundings or to receive information pertinent to that particular context and time ( Brown and Mbati, 2015 ; human geography field course, Jarvis et al., 2016 ).

Next, how the physical and social aspects of behavior settings can influence the learning activities of online learners are discussed. The physical environment includes the sensory stimuli from the built environment (e.g., lighting, noise, and temperature) and the physical presence of other people. The physical environmental can affect learning and performance through cognitive (attentional distraction and reduced concentration), physiological (temperature changes and comfort level), and affective means (e.g., motivation; refer to revised cognitive load model, Choi et al., 2014 ), especially when the learner is in a physical setting that is not primarily designed for learning ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ). Empirical research has clearly shown that environmental stimuli from the physical learning environment can increase the cognitive load on learners’ working memory. As it takes effort for a learner to process irrelevant environmental stimuli, extraneous environmental stimuli should always be removed, or at the least, minimized ( Choi et al., 2014 ).

When learners move from one physical setting to the next, they are exposed to many environmental cues, and changes in environmental stimuli can disrupt the engagement of the learner. Therefore, mobile learners need to develop skills in attention control to inhibit responses to extraneous stimuli ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ). On the other hand, mobility from one place to another can be a resource for creativity through the provision of stimulation from different environments, people, and events, as in nomadic freelance creative work ( Liegel, 2014 ) or as a relief from monotony experienced by mobile workers ( Hampton and Gupta, 2008 ).

Physical Aspects

Ambient features.

The need for a functional and comfortable space (with control of temperature, noise, lighting, air quality, and ergonomic furniture) has been expressed by working adults in online graduate programs ( Willging and Johnson, 2004 ; Alphonse et al., 2019 ), as with teleworkers ( Montreuil and Lippel, 2003 ) and campus-based university students ( Solvbert and Rismark, 2012 ; Beckers et al., 2016 ) who chose to work or study sometimes from home. Noise, lighting, and movement particularly can affect the learning of online learners.

Noise can impair an individual’s concentration and performance of complex tasks ( Banbury and Berry, 2005 ). Meaningful background conversations ( van de Poll and Sörqvist, 2016 ) and intermittent, unpredictable, or uncontrollable noise ( Smith, 1985 ) are particularly detrimental. As with teleworkers ( Gurstein, 1996 ) and mobile knowledge workers ( Hislop, 2012 ), online graduate students have indicated their need for quietness at home or elsewhere to engage in individual, cognitive work ( Alphonse et al., 2019 ). Some preferred studying with some continuous background sound ( Scannell et al., 2016 ). Others use their iPod and headphones to block out prohibitive ambient noise or listen to their own music while studying. Engaging in any audio-rich online learning activities (e.g., language learning) can be difficult in a noisy environment without the use of headphones.

For reading and other viewing activities, online graduate students studying at home ( Alphonse et al., 2019 ) have reported the need for adequate lighting and a preference for window access to view outside, as with teleworkers ( Gurstein, 1996 ) and mobile knowledge workers ( Brown and O'Hara, 2003 ). The lighting quality for computer work is dependent on several factors, such as illuminance, luminance, direction of light, glare, light source, screen design, and users’ visual ability (c.f. review by Osterhaus et al., 2015 ). Improper lighting, visual display position, and viewing distance contribute to “the computer vision syndrome” (eye strain, dryness, and neck and shoulder pain). The increased use of hand-held devices (e.g., e-readers and smart phones) under varying lighting conditions and closer viewing distances than desktop displays can present additional visual challenges ( Gowrisankaran and Sheedy, 2015 ). Good display quality of computer tablets has been shown to cause less visual fatigue than poor display quality ones during long periods of viewing ( Chen et al., 2016 ).

Studying with mobile devices while on the move is possible but can be challenging. To save time, graduate students completing online, work-based learning programs have reported using e-readers while travelling in public transport ( Nie et al., 2011 ). The ambient conditions can constrain certain work activities when traveling in a vehicle, as reported by mobile knowledge workers (e.g., Hislop, 2012 ). Learning via listening to podcasts is possible while the learner is physically moving (walking or jogging), but learning is less effective than when sitting ( Coens et al., 2011 ). Text input performance was reduced when the mobile device user was walking ( Musić and Murray-Smith, 2016 ). Nevertheless, moving about within a physical setting and exploring with the help of a mobile device is itself part of situated learning (e.g., geography course; Jarvis et al., 2016 ).

Ergonomic Furniture

The computer workstation should be set up to allow the learner to sit directly in front of the computer screen with the top of the screen near eye level and the keyboard and mouse at elbow level. The chair should be height-adjustable and provides support to the user’s back ( Honan, 2015 ). When working with a laptop, the user can make few adjustments to the body position, leading to neck and back pain and stress for the eyes and wrists ( Janneck et al., 2018 ). Therefore, prolonged use of laptop would be better supported by an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard ( Honan, 2015 ). Handheld devices, such as tablets and smartphones, can lead to wrist and neck pain if used for a long period of time. It is even worse working with a portable or mobile device on non-ergonomic furniture (e.g., at the kitchen table or on a sofa in the living room; Janneck et al., 2018 ).

Spatial Requirement

Researchers have reported that having a designated place was important for successful course completion online ( Osborn, 2001 ; Holder, 2007 ; Alphonse et al., 2019 ) and telework ( Hartig et al., 2007 ). Although some online learners live alone or have a study space set up, other adult distance learners reported having to set spatial boundaries between home and studies. They needed to negotiate a space within their household ( Haythornthwaite and Kazmer, 2002 ; Selwyn, 2011 ) or with occupants of other spaces, as with teleworkers ( Magee, 2000 ) and mobile workers ( Hislop and Axtell, 2009 ). Men were more likely to have their own office, but women tended to study elsewhere within the home ( Selwyn, 2011 ). With the use of portable and mobile devices, online learners should have the flexibility to move across locations within the home to complete learning activities, if they wanted. However, such mobility may be associated with the age of the learner. The working adult students in the Alphonse et al. (2019) study used only desktop computer and laptops, and wi-fi connections but not newer devices, and those in the Lee and Chan (2007) study preferred to listen to podcasts at a dedicated study location (typically at home) instead of listening to them on portable devices while doing other activities.

Physical Infrastructure

Online learners need to have access to high-speed Internet, wireless connection, power outlets, and a variety of computer devices, as do mobile knowledge workers ( Hampton et al., 2010 ; Mark and Su, 2010 ) and campus-based students (e.g., Beckers et al., 2016 ). Today, most people in developed countries have high-speed Internet connections at their work, home, or school ( Statistics Canada, 2021 ; Pew Research Centre, 2021a ), and wi-fi has been commonly available in many public places ( Doyle, 2011 ) for some years. However, data security remains a concern when working at coffee shops and other wi-fi hot-spots ( Mark and Su, 2010 ). Cyber security can be a problem as well ( Gaines, 2019 ).

Internet connection can be spotty and slow in those spaces with no wi-fi access ( Seneca, 2014 ), and high-speed Internet services are less accessible to homes in rural areas in the United States ( Pew Research Centre, 2021a ). Low bandwidth restricts access to resource-rich materials (e.g., video-clips and video streaming) and the downloading of large files ( Brown and Mbati, 2015 ). Cloud computing has now enabled online learners to store and access documents, audio, and video files via mobile devices from anywhere ( Wang et al., 2014 ).

Persistent data services range from limited access to continuous access. Learners’ access is restricted by locations of wi-fi access points within a community or cellular network tower locations, or their cellular data services plan. Those learners with continuously available persistent network access can use many more functions ( Grant, 2019 ). In contrast, mobile Internet access offers lower levels of functionality and content availability and operates on less open and flexible platforms ( Napoli and Obar, 2014 ).

Social Aspects

How well a learner can engage in various learning activities can be affected by people’s activities, and the rules and norms of the behavior setting. Adult distance learners reported having difficulty not interacting socially with their family members, especially children, when at home ( Haythornthwaite and Kazmer, 2002 ; Selwyn, 2011 ). Similarly, home teleworkers and mobile workers reported the need to negotiate rules regarding interruptions by people within and outside their home ( Johnson et al., 2007 ) and in public places or transport ( Hislop, 2012 ). Putting on the headphone to evade social interactions with those physically present and to communicate the need for privacy seems to have become a new social norm ( Enriquez, 2013 ).

On the other hand, the presence of other people in the behavior setting could facilitate learning and studying in some situations, as social facilitation theory suggests (Zajonic, 1965). At the least, students reported high satisfaction when they watched videos for an online course together at the same location ( Li et al., 2014 ).

Like teleworkers and mobile knowledge workers ( Perry et al., 2001 ; Cooper and Kurland, 2002 ), students in distance education have reported feeling isolated ( Wheeler, 2002 ). Building interpersonal relationships with others at home or in other behavior settings is important for learners pursuing academic studies completely online at a distance. The social support online learners received from family, friends, and colleagues have been reported to be an important predictor of student persistence ( Holder, 2007 ; Ivankova and Stick, 2007 ; Lee and Choi, 2011 ).

Individual Learning Space

Next, the second component of the proposed model, the individual learning space, comprising learning devices, the learner, and learning activities will be described. These are the three basic, inter-related elements of learning stipulated in the task model of mobile learning ( Taylor et al., 2006 ). Likewise, the characteristics of the learner, learning task and its associated use of learning tools, and the interaction between learner and task characteristics are identified as the main factors affecting cognitive load and learning ( Choi et al., 2014 ).

Learning Devices

Online learners must have access to appropriate learning devices and applications to be able to learn and study effectively at home and in multiple settings ( Alphonse et al., 2019 ). To be effective, the applications need to be adapted to the tasks and the learner’s skill level, and technical assistance needs to be easily available to those students. Lack of technology preparation and technical support was identified as a reason for online learners to drop out of their programs ( Willging and Johnson, 2004 ).

Learning devices may include desktop PC, portable devices (e.g., laptop), and mobile device (e.g., smartphones) for completing various learning activities in various physical settings. In a usability study, the users reported tablet PC to be less desirable than laptop PC, although the users could perform such tasks as reading well and were impressed by the general computing capabilities and portability of tablet PCs ( Ozok et al., 2008 ). In another study, students found the iPad had enhanced their learning experience but not necessarily learning outcomes ( Nguyen et al., 2015 ).

Ownership of mobile devices, such as smart phones, has increased rapidly in developed countries ( Pew Research Centre, 2021b ). In 2021, 85 percent of all adults in the United States owned a smart phone; of the 18–29-year-olds, 96 percent said they owned a smartphone ( Pew Research Centre, 2021b ). Mobile devices offer the benefits of portability, connectivity, convenience, expediency, immediacy, accessibility, individuality, and interactivity ( Song, 2011 , as cited in Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ). Mobile devices can support learning through enhancing users’ cognitive functions, such as performing calculations, note-taking, and accessing information via mobile internet ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ). At the same time, these devices can also “solicit” demand for attention, as some proponents of the enactivism approach to cognition argue ( Aagaard, 2018 ).

Usability for mobile phones is dependent on their features and physical limitations, technology, usage goals and environment, and user characteristics (e.g., compatibility between different platforms and devices, amount of human-device interaction, ergonomics, and readability and layout; Salazar et al., 2013 ). The small screen size of mobile devices can be problematic for users ( Coursaris and Kim, 2011 ). A smartphone with larger screen (5.3 inches) was perceived more positively and easier to use than was a smartphone with smaller screen (3.7 inches; Kim and Sundar, 2014 ). Likewise, usability of mobile phone applications needs to be evaluated using standardized measurement scales ( von Wangenheim et al., 2016 ) and for different devices and genres ( Ahmed et al., 2018 ). Surprisingly, applications on phone platforms were perceived by users to be more usable than applications on the tablet platforms, partly due to ineffective mimicking of the large-screen functionality of desktop PC on tablet apps but effective focus of phone platforms on the core functionality needed by the users ( Kortum and Sorber, 2015 ). The key is to use the right tool for the right job (e.g., smartphone for checking email and sending text updates, but larger-screen devices for extensive writing and other content creation activities; Honan, 2015 ).

Podcasts represent a low-threshold technology to deliver regular recordings of difficult, content-heavy material to learners who have little resources and a fear of technology ( Gachago et al., 2016 ). Although some studies have reported students using mobile devices to listen to podcasts only infrequently when on the move ( Lee and Chan, 2007 ; Evans, 2008 ; Pearce and Scutter, 2010 ), other studies have reported that students used e-readers or downloaded apps to read in short stretches of time while traveling or in public places, or when outdoors even with no access to an Internet connection ( Nie et al., 2011 ; Seneca, 2014 ).

No doubt any technical limitations are temporary as advances in research in human-computer interactions are made to accommodate users’ physiological and psychological needs in response to ambient conditions and locations (e.g., home and train; Chen et al., 2008 ) and individual needs and preferences through various platforms, devices, and tools (e.g., Hsieh and Chen, 2016 ). For effective learning, mobile device should follow mobile design principles that are based on mobile user context, learning theory, and user interface design ( Seneca, 2014 ), and learning applications design must consider the pedagogical effectiveness and technical functionalities and usability ( Yau and Joy, 2010 ).

Learner Characteristics

Online learners today use technologies to different extents, and their skills and comfort levels vary ( Gallardo-Echenique et al., 2015 ). Age could be a factor, as suggested in Alphonse et al.’s (2019) study of older, online graduate students. Whether or not “digital natives” have high digital literacy regarding the use of technologies for academic purposes is still being debated (cf. review by Gallardo-Echenique et al., 2015 ).

Social economic background continues to contribute to the digital divide ( Guri-Rosenblit, 2009 ; van Deursen and van Dijk, 2018 ). Even within developed countries, such as the United States and Canada, those with lower income are less able to afford high-speed Internet services at home ( Statistics Canada, 2021 ; Pew Research Centre, 2021a ). In 2021, 15 percent of US adults were smartphone dependent ( Pew Research Centre, 2021b ), and the cost associated with cellular data plan is a legitimate concern ( Grant, 2019 ). In the Netherlands, income level was associated with access to a diversity of devices and peripherals and the ability to afford maintenance costs for hardware, software, and subscription; such material access affected Internet skills, uses, and outcomes ( van Deursen and van Dijk, 2018 ). Besides access, digital divide exists in psychological skills for appropriate use as well. Students’ usage of different technologies and their motivation may have different effects on academic performance. It is therefore important to provide training in information and digital literacy skills to support learners in their educational use of technology and to develop skills in screening out redundant or irrelevant input to their learning ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ). More research is needed to examine other variables that are associated with students’ use of digital technologies in online learning.

Learning Activities

As with campus-based university students, online learners in higher education engage in various learning activities with their learning devices, broadly to include individual study of a cognitive nature and collaborative work with others that involve synchronous and asynchronous communication ( Alphonse et al., 2019 ). Exploring (context-aware situated learning) and content creating (e.g., via wikis and microblogging) can be important activities as well ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ).

Individual, Cognitive Work

When learning or studying at home, learners may be distracted or tempted to engage in other activities at the same time (campus-based students; Solvbert and Rismark, 2012 ). Such demands on attention may lead to a switching of attention from one task to another, or a sharing of attentional resources. When attention is divided between two tasks, performance is impaired, particularly when the two tasks are presented in the same sensory modality. When two tasks are performed close in time, performance of the primary activity can be affected negatively because of interference (cf. review by Levine et al., 2012 ).

To concentrate fully on individual cognitive work, online learners need to be free from interruptions and distractions when in a behavior setting. Interruptions can increase perceived workload and impair a learner’s performance of cognitive tasks (e.g., slowing the task down immediately after the interruption, van de Poll and Sörqvist, 2016 ; forgetting to carry out a task, Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ). It is harder for people to resume their original task when the interruption is long or there is little opportunity to rehearse the task goal during the interruption ( Monk et al., 2008 ; review by Couffe and Michael, 2017 ).

Some physical learning environments have more distractions than do others. Several studies have shown that having a designated studying place that is relatively free from interruptions was a strong predictor of course completion for online learners ( Osborn, 2001 ; Holder, 2007 ). Such designated space may be at home ( Willging and Johnson, 2004 ). But for some online graduate students, it was difficult to have to manage family responsibilities while studying at home ( Selwyn, 2011 ; Alphonse et al., 2019 ). Similarly, teleworkers and mobile workers have reported distractions from conflicting activities within and outside the home and in public places to be a challenge in maintaining focus ( Johnson et al., 2007 ; Hislop, 2012 ).

Collaboration Through Oral Communication

To carry out collaborative learning activities orally online (e.g., on the phone, via Skype and Zoom), online learners need a quiet place to listen (if they do not want to wear headphones or ear buds) and talk. When talking in public spaces, they may have concerns about privacy for others physically present, as do mobile workers ( Hislop, 2012 ). However, the social norm seems to be changing that it is becoming acceptable to talk to someone online in public while ignoring those physically present ( Enriquez, 2013 ). Nevertheless, online learners can choose the communication channel that is most appropriate for a certain behavior setting. When there are barriers to communicating orally, the learner could communicate in text form even though this alternative form of communication may not be as effective.

Virtual Environment

The third component of the proposed model is the virtual environment ( Figure 1 ), consisting of the institutional virtual space (e.g., learning management system, institutional administration, course materials and resources, and instructors or facilitators), peers (i.e., fellow learners in the course or program), and other online communities and resources (e.g., community of practice and open educational resources).

Relationship Between Individual Learning Space and Behavior Setting

As discussed earlier, the physical and social aspects of a behavior setting can support or hinder learning and studying. Further, the physical environment can interact with the task (including the learning device), the learner, or both to affect cognitive load and learning. For example, the effectiveness of instructional design and type of task is dependent on the characteristics of the physical environment, such as noise level. A learner’s skills level interacts with the ambient conditions of the physical environment to affect cognitive load and learning outcome ( Choi et al., 2014 ).

For effective learning, learners need to be able to choose or control their physical learning environment. “Studying environment” has been shown to be significantly associated with academic performance, satisfaction, or course completion among online learners ranging from community college to graduate program level ( Osborn, 2001 ; Holder, 2007 ). Managing physical environment has been identified as an important self-regulation skill for online distance learners ( Kocdar et al., 2018 ). They need to develop skills to withstand the environmental interruptions while moving from location to location and to self-monitor and manage demands on their limited attentional resources ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ).

The behavior setting itself affords learning. In situated learning, the physical context is relevant to the learning at hand at a certain time ( Frohberg et al., 2009 ). Learning activities can be designed to be accomplished on site (e.g., a museum) and perhaps with the use of context-aware mobile devices and applications ( Brown and Mbati, 2015 ; Jarvis et al., 2016 ). This can be particularly useful for skills training when the context in which learning takes place is similar as the context in which skills are tested (i.e., the context-dependent effect; Smith and Vela, 2001 ). Mobility between contexts may disrupt this supportive effect of context dependency because it is unlikely that memory encoding and recall will take place in the same context ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ). If the goal is to facilitate transfer of learning, then learning should take place in various contexts ( Choi et al., 2014 ).

Virtual Environment and Its Relationship With Individual Learning Space

Learners with different characteristics use various portable and mobile devices and applications to carry out individual, cognitive learning activities, access resources, communicate with instructors, and interact and collaborate with peers via the Internet. In computer-supported collaborative learning, a variety of technical and digital tools and pedagogical strategies (e.g., discussion boards, simulations, and wikis) have been used to support learning and instruction that foster the social nature of learning ( Sung et al., 2017 ; Jeong et al., 2019 ). Learners need to develop and maintain social networks and support with their peers online ( Ivankova and Stick, 2007 ; Shackelford and Maxwell, 2012 ), and the online learning environment needs to be well-designed for fostering and enabling these social connections. There is a whole area of scholarship and research devoted to various components of the virtual environment and their relationships with learning, such as computer-mediated communication, learning community development, instructional design, and educational technologies that facilitate such activities and among learners with different characteristics (c.f. reviews of distance education research by Bozkurt et al., 2015 ; mobile learning research by Krull and Duart, 2017 ).

An emerging area of research concerns distraction and interruptions that result from using media to multitask while studying. So far, research has shown that using media devices to multitask during lectures (e.g., text messaging or checking Facebook) is common among college students ( Moreno et al., 2012 ) and that multitasking has negative effects on academic performance ( Rosen et al., 2013 ; Conard and Marsh, 2014 ; review by Levine et al., 2012 ). The extent of impairment depends on how similar (in modality in particular) and difficult the tasks are (cf. review by Chen and Yan, 2016 ). On the other hand, earlier studies have reported that most students did not engage in other activities while listening to podcasts ( Lee and Chan, 2007 ; Evans, 2008 ; Pearce and Scutter, 2010 ), as the cognitive load of multi-tasking can be too much ( Pearce and Scutter, 2010 ).

Interrelationship Between Individual Learning Space, Physical Environment, and Virtual Environment

As in mobile working, online learning involves the learner using technologies to interface two environments – the immediate environment in which the learner is physically present and the virtual space of the learner’s institution or other learners – at the same time ( Frohberg et al., 2009 ). Learners and instructors can choose, or are required, to access the virtual environments synchronously or asynchronously and perhaps from multiple physical locations. As with mobile knowledge workers ( Mark and Su, 2010 ; Hislop, 2012 ), the mobile learner needs to be aware of what the distant instructor or the other learner is doing, where that person is, and what time it is to decide what types of access and interaction is possible or appropriate. For example, the teacher or student may be engaging in a separate activity or be interrupted by unrelated matters at his or her physical location while participating online ( Jamieson et al., 2000 ). The learner can also consult with the online community and other online resources at the same time from where the learner is physically present. Learners can use social media to find out who is in close physical proximity and arrange to meet in person. At the same time, online messages and social intrusions can come from the virtual environment at any time, which may support or hinder learning activities.

Considering that learners can switch their psychological “presence” between the physical environment and the virtual environment, researchers could examine how learning effectiveness may be associated with congruence between the physical learning environment and the online environment (e.g., studying online in the library versus at home) in the future. When using mobile devices to learn in media-rich physical environments, information from the virtual environment may complement or compete with information from the physical space. For example, the combination of information sources may result in split-attention and redundancy effects, thus affecting students’ learning negatively ( Liu et al., 2012 ). Mobile augmented reality, involving overlaying dynamic, location-based digital information on learners’ mobile devices (e.g., through videos), can allow learners to interact with and learn about the physical environment surrounding them. Although mobile augmented reality can keep learners more engaged, it can also direct attention away from the very environment they are learning about. In the end, how learners look at the environment is dependent on how information is presented to them by the instructor ( Ryokai and Agogino, 2013 ). Such active engagement in learners is consistent with enactivist approaches to cognition, which emphasize the dynamic relations between brain, body, and environment ( Gallagher, 2018 ).

Conceptually, the individual learning space can be considered a mobile space that moves from one behavior setting to the next over time (see Figure 1 ). The ability to manage time has been shown to be significantly associated with academic performance, satisfaction with the course, or course completion among online learners at various program levels ( Osborn, 2001 ; Holder, 2007 ). As suggested in research in mobile work ( Vartiainen, 2006 ), how long online learners stay in one setting and how frequently they move from one setting to the next could influence the effectiveness of learning. The optimal frequency and duration may depend on the extent to which course materials and learning activities are designed for fragmented learning.

One significant benefit of the Internet is to transcend geographical boundaries and time. Mitchell (2003) , as cited in Fisher and Newton (2014) , proposed a synchronous/asynchronous and virtual/physical matrix of learning opportunities: synchronous and local (face-to-face meeting); synchronous and remote (telephone, video conference, and text messages); asynchronous and local (site-specific signage and white board); and asynchronous and remote (internet web virtual studio; google). For synchronous activities, learners physically located in different parts of the world are to a great extent bound by time, which regulates their daily activities and the behavior settings they are in. Therefore, online social norm may dictate what kinds of communication and behaviors are appropriate and what are not (e.g., attending a skype meeting during nighttime).

Flexibility and Control

Online students value flexibility and control in deciding what, where, and when to study ( Nie et al., 2011 ). As with many teleworkers ( Lundberg and Lindfors, 2002 ) and mobile knowledge workers ( Hislop, 2012 ), online learners could move at various times between different settings that have different ambient features, interact with people, carrying out different tasks using the appropriate technology necessary for performing those learning activities ( Solvbert and Rismark, 2012 ; Bayne et al., 2013 ). In practice, online learners have reported less flexibility in when and where studying can take place. Instead, many online learners established fixed routines of studying that were much influenced by their gender, life stage, and employment status; for example, some working adult learners made use of time during their commute to and from work and lunch breaks at work to study ( Selwyn, 2011 ).

Conclusion and Discussion

The physical environment plays an important role in online distance learning in higher education in this digital age. The physical environment that includes the physical infrastructure and space, and ambient features together with its social environment can support or hinder the performance of learning activities carried out by the learner with various computer and mobile devices. At the same time, the virtual learning environment is all encompassing, interacting with the learner’s individual learning space within a physical setting, As the learner moves from one physical setting to the next, the learner would encounter a new set of supports and barriers. The use of mobile technologies and devices facilitates such mobility, interactivity, and connectivity.

The proposed conceptual model provides a roadmap for future research that focuses either on elements of one of the three components: individual learning space, physical environment (behavior setting), and virtual environment, or on the interrelationships between the components.

For example, researchers may focus on the behavior setting component of the model in examining how physical learning spaces can be designed to support online learning. Empirical research that examines environmental opportunities for and constraints to learning and studying, and how learning takes place in typical behavior settings (even the home) is quite limited. Further research could examine how noise, lighting, other ambient features, ergonomics, and other variables in various behavior settings may affect the effectiveness and satisfaction of studying audio, visual, and multi-media online content. Also, how online learners set and negotiate spatial and social boundaries in various settings can be explored. As these behavior settings are dynamic in nature ( Wicker, 2002 ), future research may explore how traditional behavior settings (e.g., café) are or will be transformed, replaced, or merged by actions taken by online learners. Other researchers may study how learners with different characteristics (e.g., personality and ability) prefer the use of different learning devices (currently available or yet to be developed) to achieve different learning goals (e.g., individual self-reflection or collaboration with others).

And yet other researchers may go beyond one component (e.g., individual learning space) to focus on its relationship with another component (e.g., behavior setting). As the population of online students becomes more diverse ( Lee, 2017 ), future research could examine where younger students, who may have a higher need for peer-interaction and less control over their residence than working adult graduate students, carry out their online learning activities. Whether the learner is taking one course, or an entire online program may also influence what behavior setting or settings they study in, how long they stay in each, and how frequently they change settings.

Overall, the model has additional implications for pedagogical design and for students. The constant accessibility to computer and mobile devices has led to information overload, increasing demand on our attention, and facilitated multi-tasking both within the virtual environment and between the virtual and the physical environment ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ; Stokols, 2018 ; Gaines, 2019 ). Research has begun to examine the effects of multitasking and associated division of attention on learning and learners’ coping strategies (cf. Levine et al., 2012 ; review by Chen and Yan, 2016 ). It seems likely that such factors as learner characteristics, learner motivation, task characteristics, and perception of relative importance of the tasks are important in influencing a learner’s ability to multi-task while learning ( Coens et al., 2011 ; Gaines, 2019 ).

Concerns have been raised about how advances in information technology have encouraged browsing with shorter attention spans rather than in-depth reflection ( Gaines, 2019 ). Future research may explore the temporal dimension of online learning, for example, how fragmentation of learning activities affects learning satisfaction and outcomes. For example, Seneca (2014) suggests designing apps downloadable in short bursts for quick access on mobile devices. However, there is some evidence that adult distance students preferred to set aside dedicated time for their academic studies ( Lee and Chan, 2007 ). Thus, learning designers should consider whether online learning tasks should be designed for focused attention and active engagement in learners, or divided across several tasks to accommodate lifestyle integration ( Lee and Chan, 2007 ). Designing for absorption and engagement will need to consider the management of interruptions ( Terras and Ramsay, 2012 ).

Educators may consider how learning goals can be accomplished in different physical environments by incorporating various communication channels, synchronicities, and sensory modalities. For example, course materials presented in visual format and activities performed by hand can be learned in a relatively noisy physical environment. Audio content may be suitable when in poor lighting environments. Future research might explore how multimedia learning ( Mayer, 2005 ) might be influenced by the physical environment in which the learner is located.

On the social side, educators need to design an online learning environment that fosters and enables social connections and social support. Providing institutional support for students (e.g., technical training and support) is crucial, considering that students may be using different devices and across different physical settings. Krull and Duart (2017) suggest further studies are required to examine what devices students use and how they access content and university services, perhaps with the use of learning analytics.

For students, they need to be aware of the effects that the physical and the virtual environment have on their learning and studying and be able to choose, set up, or control their physical environments for optimal learning effectiveness. Universities could provide information to help students achieve this objective. Research is needed to study strategies that would help learners with different learner characteristics succeed in online learning across multiple settings, such as learner autonomy, self-direction, and self-regulation ( Grant, 2019 ).

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and has approved it for publication.

The author has received no funding from any granting agencies for the writing of this manuscript. Athabasca University provides funds to cover the open access publication fees.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher’s Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

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18 Informal Learning Examples

informal learning examples and definition

Informal learning refers to learning situations that are unstructured. It usually takes place outside of a traditional classroom setting. There are no formal goals or educational objectives, and the learning process is usually unplanned and often self-directed by the learner.

“Informal learning is characterized by a low degree of planning and organizing in terms of the learning context, learning support, learning time, and learning objectives ” (Kyndt & Baert, 2013, p. 274).

Cerasoli et al. (2017) suggest that as much as 70-90% of adult learning is informal learning and occurs outside of educational institutions (see Clardy, 2018).

Informal Learning Examples

  • Siblings playing outside: Unstructured play is hugely educational for children, even though there is no clear learning goal set for the children.
  • Video games: Video games may seem to be time-wasting, but children informally learn things like reaction time, problem solving and even (for online games) social skills.
  • Microlearning: Microlearning involves learning for 10-15 minutes per day, such as through playing language apps on your phone.
  • Reading in your spare time: Joanne takes a lot of pride in reading books on leadership styles in her spare time.
  • Learning from your parents: Mika’s mother is a strict grammar guru and is always correcting her English.  
  • Learning from social media posts: Jenna is an active member of her department’s nationwide social media group. She regularly posts information for others regarding industry news and trends.
  • Attending trade shows: Ahkeem enjoys attending trade shows. It gives him a chance to network with other professionals and share insights regarding the industry.
  • Rotating roles at work: A large corporation implements job rotation across several departments a few times a year. It gives employees an opportunity to see collaborative projects from the perspective of people in other departments.  
  • Playing around in the shed: Kumar learned how to fix the engine on his mini-bike on his own because it was old and always breaking down.
  • Discussions in the hallways: Maria is a bubbly, cheerful employee that looks for any excuse to consult with her colleagues on how she’s going and get some quick tips.
  • Playing around in the kitchen: Jensen has refined his recipes over a period of more than 20 years. A lot of times he discovers a new seasoning or a new way to prepare a meal completely by accident.
  • Learning from cultural immersion: Danielle moved to a country with a Latin culture and learned the value of enjoying life and living in the moment.
  • Learning in a summer job: Javier takes a different summer job every year while in college so he can learn about different trades and pick up new skills.  

Case Studies of Informal Learning  

1. work simulations  .

A work simulation is an experienced based activity designed to resemble a real on-the-job scenario. The parameters of the simulation are meant to be as close as possible to what an employee might encounter on the job. Different employees play different roles in the simulation in order to learn about a new perspective, but in the safety of a simulated environment.

The simulation is usually observed by a more experienced professional or specially trained consultant. After the simulation has been completed, that person then provides constructive feedback to participants.

Work simulations are great for allowing employees the opportunity to make mistakes without the company suffering the negative consequences of those mistakes.

Work simulations are commonly used in leadership programs and emergency management occupations because they are very effective at helping participants improve their skills in a safe environment.

2. Mentoring

Mentoring is when an experienced professional decides to work one-on-one with a junior employee. The goal is to help the new member of the organization learn the ropes of the business and develop the necessary skills to have a long and successful career in the company.

Mentoring can be a very time-consuming endeavor. It requires a lot of patience and the ability to persuade the mentee to engage in different behaviors than what might come naturally to them.

The relationship between the mentor and the mentee can evolve to become quite personal. The growth process sometimes involves delving into the underlying psychology that might be holding the employee back from developing to their fullest potential.

Because there is no formal instruction or class assignments, the learning process is very informal.

3. Watching YouTube Videos  

Although most of us consider YouTube to be an entertainment platform, it also offers an incredible range of educational opportunities. A person can type in a few key search terms and within seconds have a list of dozens of informational videos that can provide all kinds of helpful tips and cautionary advice.

The topics are endless and can range from serious to silly. For example, if you want to know how to set-up a home-security system that you can monitor on your phone, you can find several videos that will walk you through the entire process step-by-step.

Or, if you just want to know which espresso machine will last the longest without blowing your budget, there are many videos that will help you find just the right one for your needs.

4. Guest Speakers

Many large corporations will often hire a famous speaker to deliver a speech to selected departments or employees. The guest speaker is usually someone that has an incredible resume and an impressive list of accomplishments. They may or may not be someone that has direct experience in the industry of the corporation which hired them.

For example, an accomplished sports coach might be hired by a computer manufacturing company to talk about leadership and teamwork. Or, a large corporation going through a business transformation might hire someone that is famous for enduring hardship or overcoming incredible challenges in life.

As employees listen to the words of wisdom of the guest speaker, they may feel inspired by seeing someone so accomplished. They might learn a few insights about collaboration or determination that they take to heart and will be affected by for many years to come.

Although the learning is informal, the impact can be substantial.

5. Socialization  

Socialization generally refers to when people learn about the values, attitudes and beliefs of the culture they are raised in. Socialization starts in childhood and continues through early adulthood and beyond. It can also refer to situations in which a person joins a particular social or political group and begins to understand the values and beliefs of those groups.

One key concept in socialization is called internalization. This has to do with the extent to which a person adopts the values of the group as their own. Internalization is not always a given.

For example, a person can live in another country for several years, become exposed to the values and beliefs of that culture, but may not necessarily internalize those values so that they become part of their own belief system .

There can be many socialization agents . Even though there are no textbooks or classroom instruction, the amount of learning that takes place over a person’s first decades of life can have lasting effects.

Advantages of Informal Learning

There are numerous advantages to informal learning. For instance, since it is often unplanned, there is a great deal of flexibility as to when informal learning occurs. It is often spontaneous and can occur at any moment.

Because informal learning is self-directed , it means that it is highly adaptable to the needs of the individuals directly involved.

Learning outcomes can also be easily transferred to practice or on-the-spot problem-solving situations such as those occurring in a workplace setting.

Informal learning can come from anywhere. It refers to learning that takes place in an unstructured and unplanned situation. There are no set educational objectives or assessment procedures.

A great deal of informal learning comes as a result of just living one’s life, either in the home, in the workplace, or when traveling to another country.

Examples of informal learning include a mother correcting their child’s grammar, a colleague helping their coworker, or a senior executive serving as a mentor for a junior employee.

Socialization agents include the school, parents, social groups, one’s ethnic background, and of course, the ever-present media.

Bruce, L., Aring, M. K., & Brand, B. (1998). Informal learning: The new frontier of employee & organizational development. Economic Development Review, 15 (4), 12-18.

Cerasoli, C. P., Alliger, G. M., Donsbach, J. S., Mathieu, J. E., Tannenbaum, S. I.; Orvis, K. A. (2017). Antecedents and outcomes of informal learning behaviors: A meta-analysis. Journal of Business and Psychology, 33(2), 203-230. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-017-9492-y

Clardy, A. (2018). 70-20-10 and the Dominance of Informal Learning: A Fact in Search of Evidence. Human Resource Development Review, 17 (2), 153–178. https://doi.org/10.1177/1534484318759399

Kyndt, E., & Baert, H. (2013). Antecedents of Employees’ Involvement in Work-Related Learning. Review of Educational Research, 83(2), 273–313. https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654313478021

Macià, M., & García, I. (2016). Informal online communities and networks as a source of teacher professional development: A review. Teaching and Teacher Education, 55 , 291-307.

Marsick, V. J., & Watkins, K. E. (2001). Informal and incidental learning. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education , 2001 (89), 25-34.

Yanchar, S. C., & Hawkley, M. (2014). “There’s got to be a better way to do this”: A qualitative investigation of informal learning among instructional designers. Educational Technology Research and Development, 62 (3), 271–291. http://doi.org/10.1007/s11423-014-9336-7


Dave Cornell (PhD)

Dr. Cornell has worked in education for more than 20 years. His work has involved designing teacher certification for Trinity College in London and in-service training for state governments in the United States. He has trained kindergarten teachers in 8 countries and helped businessmen and women open baby centers and kindergartens in 3 countries.

  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ 25 Positive Punishment Examples
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ 25 Dissociation Examples (Psychology)
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ 15 Zone of Proximal Development Examples
  • Dave Cornell (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/dave-cornell-phd/ Perception Checking: 15 Examples and Definition


Chris Drew (PhD)

This article was peer-reviewed and edited by Chris Drew (PhD). The review process on Helpful Professor involves having a PhD level expert fact check, edit, and contribute to articles. Reviewers ensure all content reflects expert academic consensus and is backed up with reference to academic studies. Dr. Drew has published over 20 academic articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and holds a PhD in Education from ACU.

  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 25 Positive Punishment Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 25 Dissociation Examples (Psychology)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link 15 Zone of Proximal Development Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) #molongui-disabled-link Perception Checking: 15 Examples and Definition

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  1. ≫ Characteristics of Distance e-Learning Free Essay Sample on Samploon.com

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    The research paper offered to the reader is devoted to the concept of distance learning, as well as its advantages and disadvantages. The question of the advantages and disadvantages of distance learning has been in the focus of research attention especially against the background of a general quarantine, which justifies the actuality of this topic.

  3. PDF Formal, non-formal, and informal learning: What are they, and how can

    Non-formal learning is more flexible than learning in formal contexts (Ionescu, 2020). This means that non-formal curricula can focus on content that relates to learners' interests (e.g., focusing on content use in contexts that are meaningful to learners, or where learners exercise some choice in learning content).

  4. PDF Informal Learning and Non-Formal Education for Development

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