Needed: A Closer Look At Informal Learning

by Dana Skiff on October 15, 2009

In the past several years there has been increasing interest in informal learning. This interest has tended to surround the question of how informal learning can better complement formal learning in terms of just-in-time learning as well as reducing training costs. Unfortunately, questions have been discussed and ideas proposed with unstated assumptions about what informal learning is, different understandings of what constitute informal learning and how informal learning should be approached. Such discussions have not generally led to fruitful conclusions and specific courses of action.

Many articles appear to treat informal learning like formal learning in the sense that people want to budget for it, plan for it and, of course, determine its ROI. Can informal learning be meaningfully treated in a manner similar to formal training? The answer is no if we take a moment to look at what is meant by both formal and informal learning, compare the characteristics of each that differentiate one from another and explore the implications of these differences for practice.

Therefore, before we can optimize the benefits of informal learning, we must step back at take a look at what really constitutes informal learning and how and in what ways it differs from formal learning. Only then can we begin to address the issue of the role of informal learning in corporate training and start articulating strategic steps to cultivate and nurture it in our organizations.

In an effort to begin the discussion of better understanding informal learning in the workplace and harnessing its potential for human capital development, this post is a first in a series of posts addressing the defining characteristics of formal/informal learning. Please join with me in this discussion.

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