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10 Benefits of Informal Learning in the Workplace

September 26, 2017 | By Asha Pandey


8 Benefits of Informal Learning In Workplace

Informal learning is self-directed learning that is driven by a learner’s passion and motivation. In this article, I outline the differences between formal and informal learning and show how you can leverage informal learning in the workplace.

Informal Learning in the Workplace

Informal learning in the workplace encompasses various unstructured, non-formal methods through which employees gain knowledge and skills. This can occur through everyday activities, interactions, and experiences that are part of their regular work routine. Key aspects include:

  • Learning from daily tasks and projects.
  • Collaborating and sharing knowledge with colleagues.
  • Seeking and giving feedback.
  • Utilizing company resources like internal knowledge bases.
  • Participating in informal discussions and meetings.

This type of learning enhances adaptability, problem-solving skills, and contributes to continuous personal and professional development in a practical context.

While the jury is divided on the benefits and the impact of informal training, I believe that instead of having a formal vs. informal training debate, the right approach is to encourage a blend of both at the workplace. This judicious blend can meet your organization’s training needs and learning outcomes, and more significantly, help create a culture that promotes “learning as a continuum.”

What Is Formal Learning?

Formal learning is structured learning delivered through programs that could be online, face-to face (Instructor Led Training or ILT), or blended.

Based on Training Needs Analysis (TNA), learning outcomes are identified, and specific training programs are designed to meet them. These could be facilitated (ILT), online (eLearning or mLearning), or blended.

Creating formal training programs requires specialized expertise and access to a varied talent pool, comprising Subject Matter Experts, Instructional Designers, Visual Designers, technology experts, and so on. This is associated with high costs and longer lead time to develop and deploy.

L&D teams, in collaboration with business units, define how formal training needs to be delivered, tracked, and consumed.

What Is Informal Learning?

Informal learning, on the other hand, gives control to the learners to choose the learning content from various sources, based on their interest, preferences, and relevance. These can be consumed at the learner’s pace.

Informal learning need not happen from structured content alone. It can happen any time during the day including interactions with colleagues, seniors, or coaches.

  • As a logical extension, informal learning does not adhere to a set methodology, a characteristic often associated with formal learning.
  • You will note that informal learning allows us to satisfy our curiosity and, in the process, helps to improve our knowledge base, pick up a new technique, or hone an existing skill.
  • It is spontaneous and can happen any time the learner sees something that piques their curiosity or will add value to their job.

It is worth noting that the successful utilization of informal learning depends on the learners. The profile of a learner who invests in informal learning is typically an individual who is goal-oriented and is always on the lookout to explore, experiment, and learn.

What Are the Benefits of Informal Learning?

Informal learning, akin to the natural, explorative learning we experience as children, offers a unique set of advantages, particularly in adult education and professional development. As adults, our approach to learning has evolved; we value autonomy and the ability to control our learning journey. Informal learning caters to these needs, offering a more personalized and self-driven experience. Let’s delve into the specific benefits it brings to learners:

Benefits for the Learner

  1. Learner-Driven Focus & Self-Directed Learning:

    Empowers individuals to guide their own learning journey, focusing on topics that are personally relevant and interesting. This autonomy in learning leads to a deeper engagement and a more profound understanding of the subject matter.

  2. Autonomy, Fulfillment, & Self-Motivation:

    Informal learning provides control over what, when, and how to learn. This autonomy results in a more fulfilling and intrinsically motivated learning experience, as learners are not confined by rigid structures or external pressures.

  3. Enjoyable and Stress-Free Experience:

    Without the pressure of formal assessments and deadlines, informal learning becomes a more enjoyable and less stressful experience. This relaxed approach helps in retaining interest and sustaining momentum in learning.

  4. Flexibility, Accessibility, & No Prerequisite Knowledge Required:

    The unstructured nature of informal learning enables learners to explore a wide range of topics at their own pace and according to their current level of understanding, making learning more accessible and adaptable.

  5. Reduces Boredom & Sparks New Interests:

    The variety and spontaneity of informal learning keeps the process engaging and can lead to the discovery of new interests and passions.

  6. Immediate Application & Flexible Pace:

    Skills and knowledge acquired through informal learning can be immediately applied in real-life scenarios. This practical application, combined with the ability to learn at one’s own pace, enhances the overall learning experience.

Benefits for the Organization

  1. Saves Time, Money, and Resources & Cost-Effective:

    Informal learning reduces the need for structured, often expensive training programs, saving the organization time and financial resources while still enhancing employee skills.

  2. Creates a Learning Culture & Encourages Continuous Learning:

    Cultivating a culture of informal learning within an organization promotes continuous personal and professional development. This culture nurtures an environment of ongoing learning and knowledge sharing.

  3. Ease of Knowledge Sharing & Learning from Anyone:

    Informal learning encourages a more natural and frequent exchange of knowledge and ideas within the workplace. This can lead to more innovative solutions and a more cohesive team environment.

  4. Autonomy, Fulfillment, & Self-Motivation in Employees:

    When employees are given the freedom to learn informally, they often experience greater job satisfaction and motivation. This autonomy in learning can lead to increased employee engagement and productivity.

What Are The Ways In Which Informal Learning Can Happen In A Workplace?

Informal learning in the workplace occurs through everyday interactions and experiences. Examples include:

  • Practical Knowledge Sharing: Discussing strategies, like how a particular sales deal was closed, during informal pre-meeting conversations.
  • Efficiency Tips: Sharing best practices that streamline tasks or improve processes.
  • On-the-Job Training: Assisting a new colleague with company tools or software in a casual setting.
  • Information Exchange: Circulating relevant newsletters or articles that tie into ongoing projects or challenges.
  • Self-Directed Online Research: Looking up tips or strategies for managing new team members or facing new challenges.

To foster such learning, organizations can:

  • Provide Semi-Structured Forums: Establish platforms for employees to share knowledge and experiences.
  • Curate Relevant Content: Offer access to resources that can aid in learning and development.
  • Encourage Flexibility in Sharing: Allow employees to contribute their insights and solutions, especially regarding specific organizational goals or challenges.

Integrating informal learning with formal programs can enhance the overall educational experience, allowing for a more dynamic exchange of ideas and best practices before or after formal sessions.

I hope this article provides insights into the benefits and the value of informal learning in your workplace. I truly believe in its power to promote continuous learning.

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