What is Informal Learning?

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informal_learning_01Informal learning is learning that takes place outside of planned learning events or programmes. It can take place at home, at work, indeed, anywhere the learner happens to be. Some of the learning that can typically be referred to as informal includes the acquisition of speech, cultural norms and manners.

In terms of workplace learning it includes on-the-job experience, interactions with co-workers, reading publications and accessing the internet.

Is Informal Learning new?

Certainly not! However, it is something that has gained more recognition as organisations have started to realise that they may not be making best use of the money they invest in training.

I first came across it in the context of online learning many years ago when attending a presentation given by Jay Cross. Apparently, his interest in the subject was aroused by Marcia L Conner.

I tend to always bear informal learning in mind when designing e-learning courses and also have done so in the design of learning management systems.

So where does Informal Learning fit in the Learning Landscape?

In short, just about anywhere! Marcia Conner came up with an excellent summary explained on a 2 dimensional grid in which she made some general classifications:

  • Formal & Intentional Learning – classes, training courses (online and offline), meetings.
  • Formal & Unexpected Learning – exploring, googling, internet surfing.
  • Informal and Intentional Learning – reading, coaching and mentoring
  • Informal and Unexpected Learning – community, teams, play.

But obviously, the situation is far more complex than this. In the workplace, formal and informal can merge at times thus making no sense of the distinction.

Jay Cross presents the spending/outcome paradox which, when you discuss it with training professionals in large organisations can turn them white! It states that 80{5f90343551c95c1cd8d815abe76582cd7f3b06a4d52ee69a52e5ef37d2cdd564} of training spend tends to be on formal learning whereas informal learning, which receives 20{5f90343551c95c1cd8d815abe76582cd7f3b06a4d52ee69a52e5ef37d2cdd564} of the spend is responsible for 80{5f90343551c95c1cd8d815abe76582cd7f3b06a4d52ee69a52e5ef37d2cdd564} of the learning that takes place.