The Good News about Informal Learning

The Good News about Informal Learning

The Good News about Informal Learning

It’s all around

For their learning needs, learners are interacting with peers, exploring their company’s intranet, tapping communities of practice, conducting online searches, going through the company’s Wiki or engaging with SMEs. Informal learning is happening all over the place!

It’s self-directed

Learners are constantly charting their own learning paths because they know what they want to achieve. Self-direction is one of the basic principles of andragogy – and guarantees remarkable results.

It’s serious

Informal doesn’t mean imply a lack of seriousness. On the contrary, because your employees are trying to bridge their own performance gap, their motivation is intrinsic and they are not just fooling around. Their commitment is likely to be higher than if they were forced to enroll in traditional training programs that have little bearing on their everyday jobs.

It’s on-the-job-training

Employees who want to do their jobs better invariably pick up tips and tricks from the ones doing it well. A conversation around the water cooler or a chat over lunch could be the best channel for bite-sized learning nuggets.

It costs nothing

Your organization needn’t have a budget for informal learning. Your employees are already going about it, using and tapping every available channel. Research estimates that between 75-80% of learning is through informal channels. And, most of the sales persons are adopting informal learning for their sales training needs.

It demonstrates results

It is highly result-oriented. Your employees have their learning goals firmly in mind, even if they are not following terminology used by Robert Magers and Bloom’s taxonomy to frame learning objectives.

Now here’s the challenge for learning practitioners. How do you blend informal learning with the more structured formal learning approach? Thoughts anyone?

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  • Great article! If you are interested in learning more how to measure informal learning’s impact on individual development and organizational goals, KnowledgeAdvisors ( has an approach that will likley suite your needs.

    Best regards,

    John Mattox

  • Diane Des Rochers

    Good and concise summary.

    Just a note though, I find OTJ training is also quite formal at times. As well, I think that informal learning would demonstrate results maybe more so if the the learning goals were linked to worplace tasks/objectives which is not what Mager/Bloom taxonomy/objectives are about. The two gentlemen were inviting us to observable action not necessarely to workplace task since they were working initially in an academic setting. The meaning of Mager’s “overt and covert” stems in fact from this distance from the field. Formal learning in organizational settings has not capture this nuance and thus most of the time has not been able to use the rationale of these objectives efficiently. One has just to verify how complicated (though not complex) it can be to try to link formal learning objectives to on the job transfer, hence workplace performance, hence learning goals.
    Diane Des Rochers

  • We do an LMS which blends informal and formal learning – with this the typical ‘water cooler’ conversations are available alongside that mandatory health & safety course you have to do. And become open to all those who could benefit. And this knowledge is also captured forever and searchable for future reference.

  • Thelma C Barnes

    I work for an organization that provides informal training. The Cooperative Extension Service has conducted workshops aimed at teaching clientele skills to help improve their lives. Everything that was stated in this article is also true of the informal education offered by Extension. I think that the future looks bright for informal education.