The Necessity of Both Formal and Informal Education

Written by Hank Martin in Personal Development

The idea of education has been so tied to schools, universities, and professors that many assume there is no other way...but education is available to anyone within reach of a library, a post office, or even a newsstand.Louis L'amour

Formal Education

Think back for a moment to the inventions and advances just after World War 2. Intercontinental ballistic missiles. Sputnik I. Explorer I. Television. Radio. The highway system. Putting a man on the moon. The polio vaccine. Computers. Cell phones. Whew! The list goes on and on. There was once a time where we dreamed of flying cars, living on the moon and existing in a world like the Jetsons. What happened?

In Servan Schreiber's book The American Challenge the domination of America in the world served as the purpose for a European need to up the ante and compete. He told of American industry dominating the world, achieving untold of economies of scale, and influencing every sector of modern society. He spoke of education, and the American dominance in that as well.

Did you know that today we graduate 4.5 times more people with bachelors degrees then we did in the 50's and 60's? So why don't we see a proportionate increase in our dominance, technological advancement and progress? In 1970 we were talking on cell phones. 45 years later we are doing the same thing, except on a touch screen and with a phone that fits in your pocket!

It is evident that formal education does not correlate with greater success, innovation and progression.

The Orangeburg school has a $10 million deficit owed to food and maintenance vendors. Its enrollment also has dropped by more than a third since 2007 and just 14 percent of its students graduate within four years.SC University
The limitations of formal education are becoming increasing obvious as attendance costs are skyrocketing, ballooning out of control. The tide of education is shifting. Schools, slow at first, are starting to close down.

In many cases, the cost in comparison to the return on investment isn't worth it anymore. So what are your other options if college isn't the right opportunity for you? Or, what if you have young kids coming up in the public or private school system? Do you worry about the education they receive? Do you fear you'll have to clear out your retirement account and mortgage your house again just to pay for their education? Maybe there are alternatives.

Informal Education

If you have young kids have you considered that traveling the world may not be an impossible burden, but an opportunity for an education unlike any other? Through a combination of homeschooling, tutoring, sightseeing, language learning and utilizing the school systems of other countries you can raise metropolitan kids but also give them an education subsidized with real world experience and hands on learning.

Maybe that's not your situation. Maybe you just graduated high school and are looking at your options for next year. I bet you are even experiencing pressure from family members to go to college somewhere. That is the traditional route after all. But, why be traditional? Did you know that some colleges abroad are cheaper and, often times, free if you're a resident? Consider the possibility-- going to school in Rome for far less than you would pay at a US school, visiting the coliseum on weekends and traveling to France on holidays. Do you think you could get used to a perk like that? Or, maybe you just aren't interested in a formal education at all. In that case, travel. Get your fill of life. Learn from the world, the best teacher I know of.

Too often, though, in the places where travelers or tourists stopped, I would hear men boast only of miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen...for many years people were enthralled with distance covered not with country they had passed through it what they had seen.Louis L'amour

I would argue we still have this problem today, a lack of ability to observe and perceive the world and a greed for mile markers and achievements.

An education is made up of several parts:

1. Depth

A broad understanding and curiosity for many things in the world. People often call this being a "jack of all trades," and I'm sure you can finish this with the common phrase "master of none." But that erroneous phrase was started by small-minded people who didn't understand the value of knowledge. Specialization, unless you can always be assured of remaining top dog, means death. Having depth of knowledge means adaptability.

2. Awareness

Hand in hand with the element above, awareness requires you remain present in the world. There is nothing more contemptible than an armchair scholar, nor more useless. Awareness requires an ability to observe the world around you, learn from others, and live according to principles for your survival.

3. Exploration and integration

Explore the world, talk to people, learn and integrate everything into your life. Knowledge is useless if you don't use it to make your life better.

4. Intensified experience

Education keeps you open to a greater existence. You live deeper when you understand the world around you. Or put another way, ignorance is not bliss.

Of the four components listed above, which ones can you glean from a formal education? Do you think you could learn all parts from an informal education?

Filling in the Framework

Any good university education provides only a framework for living life, and even this isn't necessary. Universities help speed up the learning curve of figuring out how to look at, understand and perceive the world. All of these components you can discover on your own, the learning curve may just be longer than four years. Filling in the details is a requirement of your informal education. Living a good life requires an informal education. Books, people, and experiences make up your informal education. These things comprise the "street smarts" that are essential for succeeding in life, not just getting by.

When I graduated from college I moved to Europe, knowing what others thought about the world but wanting my own understanding. I wanted to fill in the framework that formal education provided and scour away the opinions it had tried bestowing upon me. I wanted to think for myself.

Specifically, I wanted two things:

  • Pride
  • Serenity

As Louis L'amour puts it, this means knowing where I had been, what I had seen and done and having contentment. Wearing your experiences like a badge of pride is so strong a deterrent that no failures, setbacks, or disappointments in life can defeat you. Life giving moments give you the strength to endure any bad you encounter. Having pride in your actions and serenity in accepting the things life has taught you sets you on the path to success.

Where to get started

An informal education is easy to undertake, cheaper than formal study at a university and never ends! Below are some suggestions to engaging with people, reading, and gaining life experience.


  • Visit your local VFW. Talk about some people who have seen and done some shit.
  • Volunteer at a local homeless shelter.
  • Make a point to speak to everyone you meet, regardless of how they look. History is stories, collect them...especially the unpublished ones.
  • Learn from your grandparents.

A Few Books to Read:


There are many ways to learn. What are some ways you get an informal education? Leave a comment below.

Hank Martin

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Traveling for a world education and writing about the life lessons learned.



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