We gain basic knowledge and skills when we’re at school. After school, some people go to university to study a subject or subjects in more depth.
But what happens to our learning when we complete our formal education? How do we carry on learning? Do we stop learning altogether?
No, learning doesn’t stop when we leave school. We carry on learning throughout our lives.
But most of this learning happens through experience rather than formal education. We learn through facing new situations. Through doing things. It’s what experts call incidental learning.
What does incidental learning entail?
Incidental learning happens outside formal teaching environments.
It’s what happens when we learn something new from watching television, reading a book, talking with a friend, playing a video game or, as many language students do, travelling to another country and surrounding ourselves with the language.
Incidental learning always happens in the context of another activity or experience. For example, playing a video game in another language. In this case, the principal activity is playing the game; learning vocabulary is a beneficial by-product of enjoying the game.
What is the difference between incidental learning and deliberate or intentional learning?
The difference lies in the intention behind it. Deliberate learning is what happens when we have a particular aim.
It happens when we set out to memorise a list of irregular verbs, for example. It’s the type of learning that normally happens in schools and universities.
Incidental learning happens when we don’t have a specific aim in mind.
For example, when you spend time in a country where people speak a language that is different from your own, you learn random vocabulary from the various situations you find yourself in. But you don’t go out with the intention of learning five new verbs, for example.
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 learning.
Which type of learning is better?
The two types of learning complement each other. The emphasis needed on one or the other will depend on the student’s existing knowledge in the subject or area of interest they want to learn more about.
Deliberate learning is effective when we want to learn something specific.
Imagine, for example, you’re watching a Spanish film and you hear a new expression with the verb hacer: if you want to learn other expressions with the verb hacer, you will need to do so through intentional learning activities such as looking in books, or asking your teacher about the uses of hacer.
The educational community has been alternating between the two methods for decades.
However, the rapid rise of new technologies has brought with it endless opportunities to promote and encourage incidental learning in the classroom.
Video games and educational apps, for example, are gaining prominence among educational resources. Knowledge is imparted easily in a flexible, fun, and immersive environment, and this means that players learn more quickly. Which is why Wibbu has put all of their energy behind the development of bold new language learning tools. Our new educational video game, RUBY REI, is an immersive exercise in incidental learning. Play as Ruby on an engaging language acquisition adventure where the learning is entirely secondary to fun. Incidental learning at its best!
Written by Jonay Suarez, Head of Marketing