The Ontario Federation of Teaching Parents

Informal Learning

In 1998 The National Research Network on New Approaches to Lifelong Learning (NALL) at OISE/UT conducted the first Canadian survey on informal learning of 1500 Canadian adults. The research was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. The purpose of NALL was to identify the extent of adult learning, the existence of social barriers to learning and more effective means of linking learning with work.

Informal learning includes anything that is done outside of organized courses to gain significant knowledge, skill or understanding and can occur on one’s own or with other people. Four aspects of informal learning were assessed: employment related, community volunteer work related, household work related and other general interest related.

Some interesting findings from the research:

The survey showed that informal learning was immense.

On average approximately 15 hours per week was spent on informal learning. What was interesting to note was the fact that lower schooling and income levels did not appear to reduce the hours of informal learning. Individuals with a diploma spent approximately 16 hours per week and those with university degrees spent 14 hours per week on informal learning. As the report states, “Contrast this with an average of 3 hours per week spent on formal learning activities and you get a good picture of how extensive informal learning can be!”

Approximately 70% of Canadians say that their most important job-related knowledge comes from other workers or learning on their own rather than employment-related courses.

The principal investigator of the survey, David Livingstone, summarized the results as follows:

“The major conclusion from this survey is that our organized systems of schooling and continuing education and training are like big ships floating in a sea of informal learning. If these education and training ships do not pay increasing attention to the massive amount of outside informal learning, many of them are likely to sink into Titanic irrelevancy.”

What are the implications for educators? Educators have a new role to play in the life-long learning paradigm. Traditional education (quantifying, qualifying, standardizing) constrains thinking by compartmentalizing issues, students, institutions and subject matter into separate, tidy, closed boxes which obscure the big picture. Therefore, not only do educators need to learn to think outside the box, they must also open the boxes themselves.

Please see a summary of the survey results [below].

NALL Informal Learning Survey Results

Hours spent in informal learning each week:

  • over 90% of us are engaged in some kind of informal learning activity that can be broken down into various categories.

Overall hours spent on informal learning:

  • 4% of Canadians surveyed said they did not engage in any informal learning
  • 21% spent 1-5 hours in informal learning per week
  • 25% spent 6-10 hours
  • 25% spent 11-20 hours
  • 25% spent 25+ hours in informal learning each week

Level of Schooling and Informal Learning: average hours per week of Informal Learning:

  • No diploma – average 16 hours per week
  • High School Diploma – average 15 hours per week
  • Community College – average 15 hours per week
  • University Degree – average 14 hours per week

General Interest Related Informal Learning: 90% spend about 6 hours a week on informal learning related to their general interests.

  • 75% learn about health and well being
  • 60% learn about environmental issues
  • 60% learn about finances
  • 50% learn activities such as hobby skills; social skills; public issues; computers; sports and recreation

Employment Related Informal Learning: 66% of those employed, or expecting employment, average 6 hours a week in informal learning related to their employment.

  • 75% conduct projects to keep up with new general knowledge in job/career
  • 66% learn computer
  • 66% learn new job tasks
  • 66% learn problem solving/communication skills
  • 50% learn occupational health and safety
  • 50% learn other new technologies

Community Volunteer Work-related Informal Learning: 40% are involved in community work they average 4 hours a week on informal learning related to their service.

  • 66% learn interpersonal skills
  • 60% learn communication skills
  • 50% learn about social issues
  • 40% learn organizational/managerial skills

Household Work-related Informal Learning: 80% of those involved in household work average 5 hours per week in informal learning related to their household work.

  • 60% learn about home renovations and gardening
  • 60% learn home cooking
  • 50% learn home maintenance

For more information on NALL, informal learning and this research, please visit the following link: