His full article is worth a read, but the crux is:
nobody equates 'informal learning' with 'structure-free learning'
(unfortunately a few people have talked about "free range" and other similar terms, but I think that we can all agree that we are talking about finding support/structure for learning)
What makes informal learning different from formal learning is not that it is formless, but rather, it that it is conducted outside the domain of the formal education infrastructure, with the associated and not trivial implication that it is managed by the learner, and not the professor or institution.
When I have characterized the distinction between formal and informal learning, I have done it this way: by saying, if you can walk out of the room, or change the shape of the discussion, or skip an activity, without (academic or other) sanction or penalty, then it's informal learning.
I think that Stephen and I agree on the fact when learning occurs it must have occurred in some form. In fact, it would seem that Stephen and I may even have agreement that a big part of our challenge is how to provide the right environment for learning to occur.
Likely he will feel more comfortable with environments where there is more freedom left to the student in terms of the level of support/structure, freedom of the form used, etc. and I'll feel more comfortable with more control on support/structure, form, etc.
Stephen's concern with my "greater control" is:
It is one thing to say, "I'm personally much more confident if I have a set of performance objectives that I can use to derive learning objectives and skill development opportunities around. I want to put structure in place that guides the learner along the way." It is quite another to say that the learner (a) must attend your class, and (b) must adhere to your learning outcomes and learning methodologies.
Which takes me right to what I'm discussing in both the posts he cites. How do you aim at performance objectives, provide appropriate support, structure and form without dictating to some level? No one says its structure free, but how much structure is allowed before it becomes too much to be informal? There's some kind of spectrum here with all sorts of shades.
What's interesting is that the moment you begin to understand the form that informal learning took and provide support for that kind of learning in the future you start down the path of dictating solutions. Providing job aids was one example that Michael McGinnis cited. The first time a person learned how to do that task/job it was likely through someone showing them how to do it. Once they put it in a job aid - it feels more formal on the spectrum. So maybe it's not a paradox, maybe its a spectrum. But, it feels a lot like what Artifical Intelligence faces - informal is a bit mysterious and putting structure to it makes it feel more formal and much less mysterious.
Of course, I personally am not that concerned with the definition of the term nor really even the paradox as I am in understanding the next level of informal learning: what kinds of guidance, what kinds of support, how can be provided, that ultimately lead us to accomplishing our performance objectives?