I believe that informal education – such as the education programs that informal learning institutions like museums have – will take on a role of increased importance in the near future. While educational institutions have to deal with factors such as Common Core standards, high-stakes testing, structural complications, and much more, informal education programs have more flexibility in providing enriching learning experiences. The key, of course, is that these learning experiences must ultimately contribute to the overall mission of the sponsoring group, organization, or institution.
While these learning experiences may not match the level that is found within a school (and thus, could never replace them) I feel that they will serve as even more beneficial supplements in the future. 21st century skills, soft skills, life skills and more are increasingly important for success in the modern age. While schools may not have the time or resources to allow students to explicitly practice these skills in the classroom, informal education programs can make this a major focus without too much constraint. In doing so, the organizations, groups, or institutions can give the participating learners enticing reasons to return and learn more – even beyond the informal education program.
Of course, let’s not forget the ultimate variable – technology. Technology has opened the door for new and dynamic learning experiences in and out of the classroom. But just like with formal education, if technology is to be used in an informal education learning environment it must be used thoughtfully and strategically.
Informal education will not replace formal education, and it shouldn’t. But it can go places that maybe formal education won’t be able to go. And technology could take it even beyond that. That sounds to me like a very exciting future.
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