Incidental Learning In The Classroom

We love learning at Wibbu. It’s a full-time job! We’ll take extra classes in the evening and we’ll scour the internet at night. We’ll learn at home and we’ll learn on the go. We’re committed to learning… and that can be time-consuming. It’s time to double up.


Have you ever wondered, ‘…how do I even know that?’ All too often when recounting a rather specific and useless fact. Of all the information sifting through our mental sieve on a daily basis, something has stuck. A new word or a new place. A piece of trivia about a favourite character or the lyrics to a song. Unfocused as it may be, this is learning.

Most of this acquisition happens through experience rather than formal education. We learn through facing new situations. Through doing things. It’s what experts call incidental learning.


Incidental learning happens when we least expect it. From watching television, reading a book, talking with a friend, playing a video game or, as many language students do, travelling to another country to be surrounded with a new language.

Sounds fun. But can it be controlled?

Well, incidental learning always happens in the context of another activity or experience. The key is that the experience has to be engaging on its own merit. Like playing a video game in another language. Same objectives, same play structure, same engagement. All of these fun elements help to contextualise the thing you are learning. The principal activity is playing the game; learning new vocabulary is a beneficial byproduct of enjoying the game.


The difference lies in the desire behind it. Intentional learning is what happens when we have a particular  goal e.g. memorising a list of irregular verbs. It’s the type of learning you would normally find in schools and universities. We have built an entire education system around it.

Incidental learning happens when we don’t have a specific aim in mind.

For example, spending time in a country where people speak a different language from your own, means learning seemingly random vocabulary from the various situations you find yourself in. You won’t go out with the intention of learning five new words. The goal is to explore, to connect, and to excel – like you would at home.

The three features that make incidental learning different from deliberate learning are:

– It promotes enjoyment and participation.

– It takes place in a more enjoyable and less restricted environment.

– It encourages curiosity and deeper understanding.


How can teachers bring incidental learning into a structured environment? By employing a two-tiered approach to structuring a lesson. Create a primary goal that is based on pupil engagement, and a series of secondary objectives that the pupil is not even aware of.

Example: Create a game of your own in class.  A treasure hunt based on written clues that guide children from one point to the next. Be sure to sprinkle the clues with challenging vocabulary that require context and further conversation. The children will be focused on their game, on completing their mission, and the teacher will be supporting learning. That is incidental learning at its simplest. Resources include: a pen and paper, a child’s spirit of adventure, and some good hiding spots.

Let’s take things a step further by introducing technology into the mix. The force behind Wibbu’s play-based education is to take children on a learning adventure. We push fun to the foreground and sneak learning in through the back door, hidden by fun characters, situations, and context.

Playing educational games on in-class devices is the strongest way to introduce incidental learning to pupils. They can control the pace of learning in a way that they could not with a subtitled cartoon or an educational song. Children are programmed to explore and expand their horizons. Why not do it in a safe, teacher-led environment?


Great news! The two types of learning complement each other. The emphasis needed on one or the other will depend on the student’s level of interest in the subject.

Find games that can appeal to your entire class. Mix your maths and science with epic adventure and exciting plot twists. For Wibbu’s language-learning game RUBY REI, we engineered a story that will make pupils excited about the next lesson. The intent is to play and explore, the learning is incidental.

Use supportive materials to reinforce learning and give lessons structure. RUBY REI comes with an accompanying Teacher’s book to guide teachers in the best way to focus learning while all of the fun is happening.


Get in contact with us if you’d like to know more about our approach to incidental learning. Let’s work together! We’d love to hear from you.


Written by Truan Flynn,  Game Writer.