Because I grew up in the Catholic elementary school system, my school in Brampton never had music lessons. Thus, for a really long time, I thought that my only musical training was the private music training I received from my private piano teacher. Even as I pursued music studies in university, I felt that I had been behind in my musical training because the other students had music classes throughout their elementary, high school, and private school experience.
It was not until researching into the concept of informal learning that I began to realize that I did in fact always have training in music – just not the type of training that may have been considered “classroom training.” Furthermore, I realized that from my experiences growing up in a lower income neighborhood, I also had training in different genres outside of classical music through my experiences with my neighbors and my friends from school. These experiences were just more “informal.”
Defining Experiences: Is It Really Informal vs. Formal?
In “Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs. formal and informal ways of learning,” Folkstead (2006) does a good job of providing possible definitions for informal and formal learning situations and settings. Formal learning is described as an activity “sequenced beforehand. That is, it is arrange and put into order by a ‘teacher,’ who leads and carries out the activity” (p. 141). Informal learning is described as “not sequenced beforehand; the activity steers the way of working/playing/composing, and the process proceeds by the interaction of the participants in the activity. It is also described as ‘self-chosen and voluntary learning” (p. 141). In many ways, the experiences I outlined beforehand fall into these two categories: the formal aspect being the instruction I gained in high school and university versus the informal aspect I learned from creating music with my friends for fun in elementary school.
However, the main concept from Folkstead’s (2006) work that I think is remarkable is that in music education “formal and informal aspects [are] not static, but rather shif[t] continuously.” In other words, although classrooms may seem formal, there always aspects of informal learning and informal settings taking place. Thus, informal and formal learning situations can be present and changing when in interaction with one another.
Where Do These Classrooms Exist Today?
I think that Folkstead is correct to put forward this theory. While it would be easy to use Wright’s (2015) work “Now We’re The Musicians’: Using Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, capital and field to analyze informal learning in Canadian music education” due to Wright’s work in the Musical Futures initiative, I would instead like to support Folkstead’s ideas using an Australian context based example.
Marsh’s (2012) work “The beat will make you be courage’: The role of a secondary school music program in supporting young refugees and newly arrived immigrants in Australia” excellently displays how formal and informal situations mix together and allow for effective learning. In this work, refugee and immigrant students are involved in hip hop lessons guided by a teacher. However, students are encouraged to voice whether they have a preference to music, and to bring forth their own experiences and knowledge with music outside the classroom. In one case, a student actually puts forth a rhythm from a folk song from her country that gets added to the piece. In this way, students are interacting and participating in a community based compositional activity, which is close to what Folkstead defined before as informal.
From a Teaching Standpoint
I believe that integrating formal and informal practices into a classroom can be extremely beneficial to student learning. Just like the child in Marsh’s work, I believe that incorporating formal and informal learning situations allows students to have autonomy in the classroom. Allowing children to have autonomy in the classroom is important as “a music teacher never meets musically ignorant, untutored or uneducated pupils: on the contrary, when pupils come to school they al possess a rich and in some ways sophistic musical knowledge, acquired from a variety of outside – school musical activities” (Folkstead, as cited in Folkstead, 2006 p. 136).
As a private music teacher, there is many ways in which I have been able to experience informal learning when teaching students. One particular experience was when my student came for their lesson and began to play the Imperial March on piano. The student had been excited to play, but when they were finished they insisted that the song was not as important as some of the “classical” music they were learning with me. In situations like these I like to remind students that any form of musical creation and musical genre is important. In this case, I had told my student that they could learn whatever piece they wanted, and that they should bring songs from different genres to the class. In this way, I wanted to integrate the informal learning that my students were involved in with their friends and with media so that they would be able to learn music in both formal and informal situations. Furthermore, I wanted to provide my students with an opportunity to have more autonomy in the class by choosing music they felt was important to them.
Encouraging the fusion of informal and formal practices in school settings is highly important. By allowing for more informal settings to be part of the classroom, teachers acknowledge that students prior experiences are important and relevant to their education. Also, it allows students with the ability to chose the music they want to learn, and therefore begin learning how to create musical goal sin which to achieve in the future.
Australian Institute of Business. (2016). Why Teamwork is Important in the Workplace. Retrieved from http://aib.edu.au/blog/teamwork-is-important-in-the-workplace/
Folkestad, G. (2006). Formal and informal learning situations or practices vs formal and informal ways of learning. British Journal of Music Education 23(2): 135-145.
Haiku Deck. (2015). Conclusion. Retrieved from https://www.haikudeck.com/conclusion- education-presentation-SS7EjYOzlq
Quinn, C. (2009). Social Networking: Bridging Formal and Informal Learning. Retrieved from https://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/57/social-networking-bridging-formal- and-informal-learning
Marsh, K. (2012b). “The beat will make you be courage’: The role of a secondary school music program in supporting young refugees and newly arrived immigrants in Australia. Research Studies in Music Education, 34(2), 93 – 111. Retrieved from http://rsm.sagepub.com/content/34/2/93.full.pdf+html
Wright, R. (2015). ‘Now We’re the Musicians’; Using Bourdieu’s concepts of habitus, capital and field to analyze informal learning in Canadian music education. In P. Burnard, J. Soderman, & Y. Hofvander-Trulson, (Eds.), Bourdieu and the Sociology of Music, Music Education and Research. Lower case except for first word (pp. 79 – 98) Farnham: Ashgate.