The differentiating factors of formal/informal learning to be discussed in the next several blogs include the following:
4. Delivery method
5. Relevance to the job
The first differentiating factor is structure. Formal learning is characterized by structure whereas informal learning is not. By structure is meant a process by which the learner goes about learning. More likely than not, this process was created by an instructional designer. The learning has a beginning and ending with a defined process in between. The process involves guided interaction with specified content typically including examples and exercises or activities.
Informal learning has no pre-determined, specifically designed process. At a very high level, informal learning may reflect an overall approach to learning, e.g., surfing the internet, searching a database, asking colleagues, etc., but that is the extent of any process. Certainly it is not defined. While informal learning has a beginning and an end, the end does not automatically occur after specific actions have been completed. The end of informal learning comes when the learner has found (i.e., learned) the information or answer he/she was searching for.
Implication for Practice
The implications of structure on practice are several:
First, informal learning is cheaper than formal learning (i.e., courses, workshops, etc.) as there is no design, development, conduct or administrative costs.
Second, because there is no structure, it is difficult, if not impossible, to manage or control informal learning.