Futurelab Literature Review in Informal Learning with Technology Outside School

Futurelab Informal Learning

This Futurelab Literature Review considers the impact of technologies on children’s informal learning outside of school. The report highlights new thinking about learning in any setting and the possible impact.

The report acknowledges the challenges and methodological issues facing research into children’s informal learning with ICT. It explores the characteristics of informal learning and where it may occur, in addition to how and what might be learnt. Research indicates that young people’s use of ICT outside of formal education is a complex educational experience. The report reflects on how learning through ICT relates to key learning theories of constructivism, social constructivism and discovery learning.

Technology ownership is considered and the effect this has on use and learning; however, some of the data is three or more years old. It outlines the clear need for more research examining areas of ICT interaction, including use of broadband mobile technology. There is also a need for research across both domains and experiences to show how society can support and sustain the learners.

The report highlights how informal learning is leading to the need to develop new approaches to thinking about learning in any setting.  It considers whether we should re-examine the design of our formal education system in the light of new technologies. This clearly would require a major culture shift.

Both this review and the DfES consultation document on ICT in Education (2005) find that between 70 and 80 per cent of learners now have access to technology at home with many having Internet access. The advantages of this access are outlined in this review and are also summarised in the DfES (2005) document as ‘enabling learning to take place more easily beyond the bounds of the formal school organisation and outside the school day – and of enhancing the quality of such experiences’. It could be argued that this access is essential for participation in today’s society and economy. This Futurelab review is important in that it begins to describe how these advantages may be manifest.

‘Another key area of interest in children’s cultures is the ways in which young people’s social agency may be transformed by access to new technologies (Tapscott 1998; Lewis 2002; Katz 2000). By this, I mean that as the computer makes no concession to age, the occupations and opportunities traditionally seen as an ‘adult domain’ are now open to those young people with access to the new technologies. Lewis’s (2002) study of young entrepreneurs, or Katz’s (2000) portraits of young ‘geeks’, emphasise young people acting independently from their traditional carers and, masked by the anonymity of the internet, interacting with adults as their social equals’. p 23

It also finds, however, that those with lower socio-economic status are more likely not to have these experiences with technology. This has been described as a ‘digital divide’ between the technologically rich and poor learners which might increase educational and social exclusion. Selwyn (2003) has suggested that the term digital divide is too simplistic a notion to consider what is actually occurring and has elaborated a hierarchical model of inequality in relation to the use of technology in education and society which is considered elsewhere in the TTRB.


Gilborn D. & Safia Mirza, H.  (2000) Educational Inequality: Mapping Race, Class and Gender: A synthesis of research evidence

DfES (2005) Harnessing Technology - Transforming learning and children's services DfES
View the TTRB commentary on this publication

Selwyn, N. (2003) 'Defining the Digital Divide: Developing a Theoretical Understanding of Inequalities in the Information' Cardiff University Occasional Paper No. 42 ESRC
View the TTRB commentary on this paper

Reviewed by:
Bob Fox

Authors :

Julian Sefton-Green for Futurelab

Source :


Publisher :

Futurelab 2004

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