Learning is often compared to an iceberg, where formal education represents the visible tip, and the vast majority of learning remains hidden beneath the surface. 

In this article, we will explore the iceberg of learning and discuss how learners can harmoniously balance these forms to learn better.

The Iceberg of Learning

Imagine learning as an iceberg. The tip, above the waterline, symbolizes formal education – the structured classroom settings, textbooks, and organized courses. Yet, this is only a small part of the overall learning process. The bulk of learning occurs beneath the surface, comprising informal and non-formal learning. 

The concept of Iceberg of Learning comes from The Base of the Iceberg written by Alan Rogers. We will refer to the book and extract lessons from it for our daily learning experiences. 

Let’s understand the three forms of learning in brief: 

1. Formal Learning

Formal learning takes place within structured educational institutions such as schools, colleges, and universities. It features defined objectives, dedicated learning time, and often results in certifications. Learners actively seek formal education, as they enroll in programs to acquire specific skills and knowledge.

2. Non-Formal Learning

Non-formal learning, however, unfolds beyond traditional education. It maintains structured learning objectives and times but typically lacks formal certification. Examples include workshops, meetups, learning communities and so on. This learning is also intentional, driven by individuals who seek structured experiences to gain new skills and knowledge.

3. Informal Learning

Informal learning occurs naturally throughout daily life, often through work, family, or leisure activities. It is less structured and lacks defined objectives or dedicated support. This type of learning is both intentional and unintentional and encompasses activities like self-directed research, observation, and discussions with peers and mentors.

Learning Events and Learning Practices

In addition to the three main forms, it’s essential to consider “learning events” and “learning practices.” Learning events are everyday incidents that lead to learning, such as reading to a child at bedtime, while learning practices represent the underlying assumptions, beliefs, and cultural values associated with learning.

The author likens life to a “river of rich thick soup” filled with numerous everyday learning events, which are small but constant instances of learning throughout one’s life. These events can be analyzed as “learning practices,” reflecting the attributes of the learner. Within this ongoing learning process are a few more significant “lumps” or “dumplings” in the soup, representing intentional “learning episodes.” These episodes may be formal or non-formal and are situated within the broader context of unconscious and unintended learning events and practices.

The focus of most writers and researchers has traditionally been on formal, non-formal, and self-directed learning episodes, which are more visible and structured. Informal and unconscious learning events have received less attention due to the challenges of researching them. However, the author emphasizes that informal learning is essential because self-directed, non-formal, and formal learning episodes draw upon and contribute to the more pervasive and universal learning events and practices that occur daily.

How do we balance the three forms of learning with the aim of learning better? Here are some strategies to effectively navigate the iceberg of learning:

  1. Set Clear Goals: Define your learning objectives and long-term goals, discerning where formal education is essential and where non-formal and informal learning can complement your journey.
  1. Continuous Self-Assessment: Regularly evaluate your skills, knowledge, and personal development needs. Identify gaps that can be filled through non-formal and informal learning experiences.
  1. Embrace Technology: Leverage online resources and digital platforms to access a wealth of non-formal and informal learning opportunities, making learning more accessible than ever.
  1. Networking and Mentoring: Engage with peers and mentors who can provide guidance and support. Informal learning often thrives within a community of like-minded individuals.
  1. Adapt and Evolve: Be open to change and evolving trends. Learning is an ongoing process, and being receptive to new ideas and practices is essential for lifelong learning.

The concept of the “Iceberg of Learning” emphasizes that education extends far beyond the classroom, encompassing numerous experiences throughout one’s life. By skillfully combining these learning forms, individuals can navigate the iceberg of learning and embark on a fulfilling and successful lifelong learning journey in a world of constant change.

Unlearning Thought

Remember, it’s not just about what you learn but also how you learn and continue to learn throughout your life.