About Us

The Informal Learning Network at Michigan State University (ILN-MSU) is a cross-disciplinary, cross-unit organization committed to:

  • Bringing together Michigan State University faculty members, staff members, and students whose teaching, research, and outreach interests include informal learning; 
  • Promoting the sharing of information, ideas, and resources;
  • Supporting the accomplishment of individual, collaborative, and University goals related to informal learning; and 
  • Advocating for and engaging in informal learning in the university community and elsewhere.

If you would like to get involved or for more information, please contact us

ADVISORY GROUP: Denice Blair (coordinator), Burton Bargerstock, Zachary Constan, Norm Lounds, and Shannon Schmoll

Why organize the Informal Learning Network?

Informal learning (also called free-choice or out of school learning) is learning that takes place outside of classrooms and prescribed pedagogies.  Often directed and driven by the learner, informal learning "is all about deciding what, where, and how we want to learn over the course of our lifetimes.  It's the learning that takes place all the time, outside of the classroom, no matter how young or old you are" (Oregon Sea Grant, 2012).  Many educators choose to use the term informal learning rather than informal education, in order to highlight learner-centered outcomes, rather than teaching methods, teachers, or subject matters (Hein & Alexander, 1998).  Settings for informal learning include homes, museums, science and cultural centers, public outreach programs, community events, and after school programs.  Informal learning can happen in any discipline: the sciences, mathematics, engineering, technology, the arts, humanities, social science, health, business, and others.  

Michigan State University (MSU) includes many faculty members, academic specialists, staff members, and students whose teaching, research, and outreach interests are related either centrally or tangentially to informal learning.  All of the colleges at MSU provide some type of informal learning experiences for their students or members of the community.  These pursuits are consistent with the University mission to advance innovative and research-driven outreach and engagement efforts, especially those that engage the public with ideas, content, and experiences at MSU (MSU, Office of the President, 2008).  The Informal Learning Network promotes the sharing of informal learning information, ideas, and resources and to support the collaborative accomplishment of goals related to informal learning by individuals at Michigan State University. 


The goal for the ILN-MSU is to be a supportive, resource-rich, and action-driving association for the members that will preserve the autonomy of individuals while creating strength in numbers, for resource sharing, program development, grant writing, research projects, advocacy for informal learning, and action in the university community and elsewhere.  A network structure organized with the characteristics below (Hogue, n.d.) will allow the ILN-MSU to realize this goal.  


  • Dialogue and common understanding
  • Clearinghouse for information
  • Create base of support


  • Loose/flexible link
  • Roles loosely defined
  • Community action is primary link among members


  • Low-key leadership
  • Minimal decision making
  • Little conflict
  • Informal communication

Meetings and Activities

Members will enjoy the benefits of the collegial exchange of ideas and engagement with others who share their commitment to improving learning that takes place in out-of-classroom settings.  The ILN-MSU will make the work of its members more visible to others, both inside and outside the university.  Members will be able to identify colleagues who share specific interests and who are potential project collaborators in building capacity to support informal learning programs, course development for informal educators, and research.  Meetings and events will provide opportunities to network and learn more about informal learning and the work of others.  Future event activities may include:

  • Members' presentations about their work in informal learning
  • "Round Robin" discussions, in which event attendees participate in rotating discussion groups about informal learning
  • "Speed networking," in which members meet everyone else one-on-one or in small groups
  • Project workshops (e.g., grants, research, course development)
  • Webinars
  • Guest speakers


Hein, G. E., & Alexander, M. (1998). Museums: Places of learning. American Association of Museums Education Committee, Professional Practice Series. Washington DC: American Association of Museums.

Hogue, T. (n.d.). Community based collaboration: Community wellness multiplied.  Bend, OR: The Chandler Center for Community Leadership.  Retreived from http://www.uvm.edu/extension/community/nnco/collab/wellness.html

Michigan State University, Office of the President. (2008). MSU mission statement.  Retrieved from http://president.msu.edu/mission/

Oregon Sea Grant. (2012). Free choice learning. Corvallis, OR: Oregon State University. Retrieved from http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/education/free-choice-learning 


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