Informal Education

Informal Education

Azher Hameed Qamar, Ph.D (

Individuals are influenced by their environment and social agents, and experience learning by living (Leathes 2009 and Partridge 2009). Education and socialization are deeply intertwined (Wyatt 2008). Although often understood as similar, there is a notable difference between ‘education’ and ‘socialization’ that remains unclear when we consider education in its wider sense but becomes clear when we observe different modes of education.

Socialization is the process whereby people learn to live in a society (Spade 2013). Socialization prepares individuals for social performance, and for accomplishing their social roles. Developmental psychologists and sociologists also see socialization as a process of learning values, beliefs, norms, and skills that help individuals become functioning members of society (Hyson 2002). It leads to shared understanding and helps to maintain an association with the social settings we belong to. In this sense, the scholars emphasized the social implications of education that aim at making an individual best fit in the society it belongs to. For example, Chandra et al (1996, p.2) quoted Aldous Huxley, who finds “a perfect education trains up every human being to fit into the place he or she is to occupy in the social hierarchy, but without, in the process, destroying his or her individuality.” Other definitions Chandra and colleagues provide point to total development, life-long learning, understanding of individual and collective relationships, and their individual and social aims. In a general and formal sense, education helps in developing reasoning, judgment, and critical analysis, and thus places an individual in a distinctive position in society. In contrast, socialization leads individuals to adopt behaviors that help the individually in social ‘becoming.’

There are several types and three popular modes of learning associated with the concept of ‘education’. Education, from birth to death, goes through three modes that differ in style, approach, and methods but are also interlinked: formal, informal, and non-formal (Scheerens 2009 and Rogers 2005). Being an unorganized and unsystematic mode of education, informal education is distinctively different from the other two modes. Informal education has been a subject matter of children’s upbringing and acquisition of knowledge and skills in primitive societies (Scribner & Cole 1973). With the developments of different modes of learning and children’s lives in today’s world, informal education has become an inseparable subject matter of the modern education system. The classic definition of Informal Education by Coombs and Ahmed (1974) defines informal education as.

“The lifelong process by which every person acquires and accumulates knowledge, skills, attitudes, and insights from daily experiences and exposure to the environment-at home, at work, at play; from the example and attitudes of family and friends; from travel, reading newspapers and books; or by listening to the radio or viewing films or television. Generally, informal education is unorganized and often unsystematic; yet it accounts for the great bulk of any person’s total lifetime learning” (p.8)

This definition imparts experience and exposure in the environment as the key aspects of informal education and learning. The anthropological description of informal education emphasizes learning and socialization that is particularistic and traditional (Cohen 1971).

The sources of informal education lie in family settings, informal environments (such as public places), and mass media. Informal education utilizes these highly contextualized resources to situate informal learning. As most informal learning is socially contextualized and loosely structured (Boekarets & Minnaert 1999), the environment provides the cultural and social context that constructs informal education as a social phenomenon that plays a vital role in bringing up a child into an adult best fit in the society. Informal education (as a socialization agent) negotiates the socialization process and instigates informal learning of culture and sub-cultures. The strength of informal education lies in its verbal and non-verbal means, its life-long continuity, and the power relationship of the social actors involved in it. One excellent example, in this regard, is gender socialization where informal education helps to understand and incorporate the gendered positioning of the members of society. Together, socialization and informal education constitute the social construction of gender (see Qamar 2012).

Culture and society being dominant in child-rearing and defining childhood from a social perspective (James and Prout 1990) provide the basis of the social construction of childhood. Every child learns to be an adult in society; thus, a large part of education occurs in informal settings where parents, elders, and fellows leave their marks through social interaction (Leathes 2009). Most of the information education, at first, occurs at home by the family (Cohen 1971; Coltrane 1998). The family describes and elaborates rituals and customs, defines boundaries, and places family members in their respective position while mentioning the members who are not in the family (Coltrane 1998). Parents, in this respect, perform a key role in shaping an informal education system in home settings. Influenced by the culture and subcultures, they design a set of instructions and restrictions (in the informal education domain) that surrounds and controls the social spheres and behavior of the learner (Qamar 2012).

With the expansion of sources of informal learning other than family, such as public places, (for example museums, parks, and zoo), vibrant mass media (for example TV channels, internet), and social media (such as Facebook), informal education have become more significant in shaping social construction of the human beings. Today informal education is multifaceted and interlinked. Family, friends, society, places, and media play their dominant role in the modern education system while promoting the cultural traits of society and (as Cohn1971 says) fusing the emotional and intellectual perspectives.


Boekarets, M. & Minnaert, A. (1999). Self-regulation with respect to informal learning. International Journal of Educational Research, 31(6), 533–544.

Chandra, S. S., Chandra, S. S., & Sharma, R. K. (1996). Sociology of education. Atlantic Publishers & Dist.

Cohen, Y. A. (1971). The Shaping of Men’s Minds: Adaptations to the Imperatives of Cultures. In M. L. Wax, S. Diamond & F. O. Gearing (Eds.), Anthropological perspectives on education (pp. 19–50). London: Basic Books.

Coltrane, S. (1998). Gender and families: Pine Forge Press.

Coombs, P. H., & Ahmed, M. (1974). Attacking rural poverty; how nonformal education can help. A Research Report for the World Bank. John Hopkins University Press.

Hyson, D. M. (2002). Understanding Adaptation to Work in Adulthood: A Contextual Developmental Approach. In R. A. Settersten & T. J. Owens (Eds.), New Frontiers in Socialization. Oxford: Elsevier Science.

James, A. & Prout, A. (1990). A New Paradigm For the Sociology of Childhood? Provenance, Promise and Problems. In: James, A. &Prout, A. Eds. 1990.Constructing and Reconstructing Childhood: London: The Falmer Press, pp.7–31

Leathes, S. M. (2009). What is Education?. Charleston (South Carolina): BiblioLife

Patridge, G. E. (2009). Genetic Philosophy of Education. Charleston (South Carolina): BiblioLife

Qamar, A. H. (2012). Gendered Aspects of Informal Education in Childhood: Research Reflections from the Rural Punjab, Pakistan. Academic Research International, 2(1), pp. 383–397

Rogers, A. (2005). Non-formal Education: Flexible Schooling or Participatory Education?. Hong Kong: Kluwer Academic Publishers

Scheerens, J. (2009). Aims and Scope of the Study. In: Scheerens, Jaap. Ed. 2009.Informal Learning of Active Citizenship at School: An International Comparative Study in Seven European Countries. The Netherlands: Springer publishers. Ch.1

Scribner, S., & Cole, M. (1973). Cognitive Consequences of Formal and Informal Education: New accommodations are needed between school-based learning and learning experiences of everyday life. Science (New York, NY),182(4112), 553.

Spade, J. Z. (2013). Gender Socialization and Education: Where we’ve been and where we might go. In D. L. Levinson, P. W. Cookson & A. R. Sadovnik (Eds.), Education and Sociology: An Encyclopedia (pp. 301–306). NY: Routledge

Wyatt, G. (2008). Family Ties: Relationships, Socialization, and Home Schooling. Maryland: University Press of America


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