Skating, samosas and smartphones: celebrating informal learning

By Contributor
January 19th, 2013

Ice skating is hard. There’s a trick or two to configuring your smartphone for downloading library ebooks. And samosas are best with just the right amount of spice: not too little and not too much.

How do we know? We may have discovered it for ourselves (darn, that ice is slippery!), perhaps attended a workshop, or consulted a cookbook or two. We learned it – but outside of formal school. 

And this month that kind of loose, often unrecognized learning – called informal and non-formal learning – is something public libraries and literacy organizations in the province are highlighting as part of the week leading up to ABC Life Literacy Canada’s Family Literacy Day, Sunday, Jan. 27.

“This is the kind of learning that literacy programs and public libraries support every day,” says Brenda Le Clair, chief executive officer of Decoda Literacy Solutions, which leads a literacy network that reaches 400 communities in B.C.

“It might be often taken for granted, but this informal and non-formal learning – from parents reading to their children, to seniors attending social media workshops – is a vital contributor to ongoing community health and prosperity,” says Le Clair.

Simply consider the thousands of workshops, discussion groups, readings and training sessions that happen each day in public libraries and literacy programs around the province:

“This is learning on a truly impressive scale – and it’s available for free,” says Sandra Singh, chief executive and chief librarian at Vancouver Public Library, who notes a body of research on the importance of informal and non-formal learning. “It makes an amazing difference to our communities and their quality of life.”

One example: sessions teaching computer basics, email and social media – perhaps to seniors or newcomers to Canada – which open up a world of possibilities for exploring information, and connecting with far-away friends and loved ones.

At the Grand Forks and District Public Library, and Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy, for instance, local programs include Parent Child Mother Goose, Alphabet Soup and a drop in Community Learning Place for adults wishing to improve their reading, writing, and/or math skills. This includes individual help preparing for exams, reading, and improving basic computer skills.

 “We really want to recognize the value – and the power – of this kind of learning,” says Grand Forks community learning co-ordinator, Sheila Dobie. “It takes place all the time, and in so many different ways. And it’s so important to building and supporting strong communities.” 

To celebrate informal learning, our local literacy organizations are participating in ABC Life Literacy’s “15 Minutes of Fun” campaign, encouraging families spend 15 minutes engaged daily in a learning activity. 

Send us a photo of you and your family with a short caption on your activity, and we will post it on the CBAL facebook page.  All participating families will be entered into a draw for a basket of learning and literacy goodies.  Draw will take place Friday, Jan. 25 at the Grand Forks Public Library.  Email your photo to michele@look.ca or post it on our Facebook page, Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy Boundary Region with a short caption about your learning activity.


About the Grand Forks & District Public Library The Grand Forks & District Public Library (GFPL) provides dynamic and innovative services, offering a wide variety of Library materials and programs that meet the information, educational, and recreational needs of the community. They serve residents of Area C, Area D, and the City of Grand Forks, through our programs, services, and our collection of over 37,000 items including books, ebooks, DVDs, CDs, large print books, and magazines.


They are open Tuesday through Saturday, and 24 hours a day on our website at www.grandforks.bclibrary.ca.

About Decoda Literacy Solutions: Decoda Literacy Solutions is B.C.’s literacy organization.It is committed to being a vehicle for individual and community change; a catalyst for a culture of literacy and learning for people of all ages, whether children, youth, working adults or seniors.

Through its expertise and coordinated network of 102 task groups in 400 B.C. communities, it works with government, business and community organizations to achieve local literacy goals and to build vibrant and resilient communities, successful individuals and sustainable businesses. It responds to community needs, as well as emerging trends and government priorities.

Decoda is online at Decoda.ca, Twitter(@decodaliteracy), and Facebook(decodaliteracy).

About the local literacy organization, Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy: CBALis a not-for-profit organization formed in 2001 to promote literacy and lifelong learning throughout the Columbia Basin and Boundary regions. CBAL is online at cbal.org.

CBAL partners with community organizations to develop, promote and deliver services to help citizens of all ages improve their literacy skills, and engage in life-long learning.