In our early years, informal learning is the significant way we learn. In fact, we continue to learn through this approach even at the workplace. In spite of this, many people are skeptical about the impact of informal learning at the workplace. However, I believe that it should be part of the overall learning strategy as learners respond positively to it and organizations can easily provide support to promote it.
In this blog, I begin with the definition of formal and informal learning and outline the key differences between them. Then, I share the benefits you will see as you promote it. I wrap up with 5 informal learning examples that you can use.
What Is the Difference Between Formal and Informal Learning?
Formal learning is gained through structured or formal training. Typically, managed by L&D teams, it is based on the Training Needs Analysis (TNA). As a logical extension, it has definite learning outcomes. It will typically have assessments to check how learners fared against the desired gain.
Formal trainings are delivered through structured formats that may include one or all of the following:
- Instructor Led Training (ILT).
- Virtual Instructor Led Training (VILT).
- Online Training.
- Blended Training.
Most of the times, this training is managed by L&D teams and would have a roll-out and completion schedule.
Informal learning on the other hand is the impromptu or spontaneous learning. It is triggered, driven, and sustained by the learner’s intrinsic motivation and passion to learn. It can have varied elements that can include learning from others, practice, reflection, or evaluation of new aspects of interest.
What Are the Benefits That Informal Learning Offers?
- Focused learning: I believe the biggest advantage that informal learning offers is the sense of control that it offers. As adult learners we like this.
- Higher relevancy: It enables learners to have a more satisfying learning experience as it does not have the pressure to complete by a certain date, clear the test, achieve a certain level of scores and so on.
- Flexible learning: Since informal learning is driven by the learners, they can piece the learning journey from various sources and different channels. This will match their learning styles, their aspirations, and the way they want to learn.
- Continuous learning: Again, since the control of informal learning is with the learner, it need not stop as a given training session is over. Instead, it allows learners to be on a continuous path to enhance their skills, practice, and improve their baseline proficiency to the required levels of mastery.
How Can You Promote and Use Informal Learning at the Workplace?
Learning at the workplace happens all the time. Even without realizing we are watching and learning during meetings, discussions, or over a coffee.
You would possibly relate to some of the situations:
- Sharing the strategy that worked—during the sales review meeting.
- Tips on handling a difficult customer situation—during the project management review meeting.
- Sharing the best practices that helped you optimize a specific task.
- Sharing a link on how the organization-wide tool can be used optimally.
- Coaching or mentoring by a colleague when you were stuck in a transaction.
5 Informal Learning Examples That Illustrate How Organizations Can Promote Informal Learning at the Workplace
Organizations can further facilitate informal learning in many ways, including using the following 5 informal learning examples that I am about to share. These informal learning examples reflect the semi-structured support for informal learning that will go a long way in promoting a better learning culture.
- Example 1: Facilitated or semi-formal forums that encourage knowledge sharing, problem solving, or change management.
- Example 2: Curated content that allows learners to pick learning nuggets that are of interest or will help them perform better or address a problem.
- Example 3: Coaching and mentoring or buddying up a new inductee as they learn the ropes.
- Example 4: Informal Expert speak sessions (from the internal team or guest speakers).
- Example 5: Volunteering.
I hope this blog provides some ideas on how you can promote informal learning at the workplace. As you will note from these informal learning examples, this can be easily facilitated by organizations and will help you create a continuous learning environment.
If you have any queries or need any specific support, do contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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