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Section 2: Individual informal learning strategies

Trial and error

"Trial and error, or trial by error, is an experimental method of problem solving, repair, tuning, or obtaining knowledge" [1]. Trial and error can be a very effective strategy if you are already familiar with similar tools, devices, and applications. For example, if you are familiar with Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, you can quickly adapt your knowledge to learn Google spreadsheets.

This method can be tiring and time consuming. Novices typically use this strategy [1]. Edward Thorndike coined the term "trial-and-error learning" in the early 1900s while watching cats problem solve [2]. We use this strategy quite frequently to find solutions to new challenges. When confronted with a problem, we will try a solution. If not successful, we will try another solution. We will repeat this process until a correct solution is found. When confront with a similar challenge, we will attempt the last workable solution as a starting point.

Trial-and-error is not a useful strategy for all situations.

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Information gathering

Gathering information on a subject or topic can take many forms. Many people start with the Internet and then move on to more specialized libraries and databases [3]. When locating resources, it is important to evaluate the information found.

Hoffman recommends not only finding resources but also sharing finds with others [3]. You may not be the only one needing a particular resource. You can do this by sharing useful links either independently or placing them in subject guides or on another Web resource.

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Individual instruction

Viewed in its broadest sense, individualized instruction can mean any learning activity that helps people meet their own learner-specific outcomes without unneeded instruction and that they can do at their own pace. This could include print-, video-, or computer-based learning. [3]

For a learning organization, learning materials can be prepared for individuals, individuals can search for their own learning resources, or there can be a combination of methods.

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Online help

One of the more important self-help tools is an application's help module or Web-based support site. [3] Typical help walks a user through a task step-by-step.

In addition to application sponsored help, the community may develop forums to help fellow users. [3]

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Section 1 | Section 2 | Section 3 | Section 4 | Section 5 | Section 6

  1. 1.0 1.1 Trial and error. (2012, May 12). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 21:23, July 18, 2012, from [1]
  2. Psychology: The basics of trial and error Learning (with examples). (n.d.). Retrieved July 19, 2012, from
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Hoffman, B. (2003). Informal learning: Managing the training function. Alexandria, Va.: ASTD. Retrieved from