The Rise Of Informal Learning: Is Your Organization Capitalizing This?

Most organizational education is face-to-face in formal training programs.

Or it is online in boring elearning text-based courses. Or it may occur at conferences where we try to condense as much content as possible and pour it into our brains.

Filling our heads with facts, information and knowledge is ineffective. People forget most of what they hear within a matter of hours. Our ROI of information transfer is low. Really low.

Passively listening to lectures without ever thinking about what is being said leads to low retention. Sitting for six to eight hours in presenter monologues or panel dialogues rarely leads to great takeaways.

Yet the hallway conversations can create some great aha moments. It’s in the sharing of experiences that we often get those valuable gems. Informal learning is what happens outside the classroom.

Four Types Of Learning

Most organization learning happens around the water cooler. Or in a cubicle. Or over lunch. Or on the phone.

It is not structured or formal. It is informal. It happens with our daily experience. It is picked up from co-workers, family, friends, neighbors and peers.

Educator extraordinaire Marcia Connor identifies four types of learning: formal, informal, intentional, unexpected. 

1. Formal Learning

Formal learning includes the hierarchically structured school system that runs from primary school through the university and organized school-like programs created in business for technical and professional training.

2. Informal Learning

Informal learning describes a lifelong process whereby individuals acquire attitudes, values, skills and knowledge from daily experience and the educational influences and resources in his or her environment, from family and neighbors, from work and play, from the market place, the library and the mass media.

3. Intentional Learning

Intentional learning is the process whereby an individual aims to learn something and goes about achieving that objective.

4. Accidental Learning

Accidental learning happens when in everyday activities an individual learns something that he or she had not intended or expected.

Connor also refers to an additional category: non-formal learning. Non-formal learning is any organized educational activity outside the established formal system whether operating separately or as an important feature of some broader activity intended to serve identifiable learning objectives.

5 Ways To Capitalize On Informal Learning

Connor list five ways to capitalize on informal learning.

  1. List all of the informal programs occurring in your organization. Post them for others to consider, review and add suggestions.   
  2. Create peer-to-peer sessions where employees informally share experiences in a structured, facilitated roundtable format. 
  3. Support informal communities of practice. Create others where you there are gaps. 
  4. Reconsider and review your meetings. What are they really offering? 
  5. Find more opportunities for accidental learning and make it a topic of conversation.

Check out Jane Hart’s slide deck for more information on informal and workplace learning. Her 10 step plan for working smarter is a blueprint for learning today!

View more presentations from Jane Hart.

Why do organizations discount informal learning? How can your organization recognize and promote more informal learning?

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dave Lutz, nancyrubin. nancyrubin said: RT @jeffhurt Informal Learning: Is Your Organization Capitalizing This? […]

  2. Informal learning is where real advances happen. The informal conversations really capture what is taking place. Self Directed Learning is the part that sticks out for me. If people can be empowered to informally learn what they need to know with some direction a better understand and innovation would thrive.

  3. I think the main reason for a lack of informal learning support is the continued myth that the entire right hand side of the 2×2 above is “a waste of time” or “unproductive”. If it can’t be billed it should be done is still a mantra many follow.

    I wonder how many great ideas started in what some would consider a time suck. My suspicion: a LOT.

    Thank you for the reminder Jeff. Play, exploration and discovery are important beyond the toddler years. I’m thinking that I’ll schedule an hour for the above. Good for the soul and the mind.

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