There is a time and place for formal learning. When it’s necessary to evaluate progress and ensure that someone learns a skill, formal learning provides the framework for specific requirements and assessment. However, it is not always the most effective way to learn.

The Informal learning theory describes learning that is unstructured and encourages self-directed education, which we can continue long beyond our high school and university years without ever setting foot in a classroom again. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) shared this report on the Classification of Learning Activities, wherein they describe non-formal learning like this:

“…intentional, but it is less organised and less structured…and may include for example learning events (activities) that occur in the family, in the work place, and in the daily life of every person, on a self-directed, family-directed or socially directed basis.”

Non-formal learning is based on experience (and can often be called experiential learning) and usually doesn’t take place in a classroom. There’s no curriculum to follow, which allows for spontaneity and changes in direction according to what the learners need and find interesting. Finally, there is no formal assessment.

There are many benefits of informal learning:

  • Low Stress: With no assignments or exams, there is no high-pressure situation.
  • Flows with Daily Life: Many informal learning activities are a part of daily life. People continue to learn and grow according to what they need to solve a problem or get through a situation.
  • Intuitive: People naturally do what they need to do to learn in the informal setting. For some, this means more reading; for others, it means more hands-on practice.
  • Encourages Curiosity: Without the pressure of performance, people are free to follow their interests, even if it takes them away from the original idea.

There are so many examples of informal learning in the workplace. These are 10 of our favorites, which go beyond the office but still benefit each employee and the company as a whole.

  1. Workplace Mentoring Pairing new employees with seasoned employees gives the newbies an opportunity to see how business is conducted in your company. With no exams or assignments to worry about, new employees can learn by example and incorporate the practices they observe in more experienced employees. This also gives new employees the confidence they need to do their jobs well and helps with the succession planning process.
  2. Social Media Engagement LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media outlets are full of industry information (sometimes hidden behind the photos of a friend’s lunch). Encourage your employees to connect online with your company and other industry leaders to stay on top of the latest news and trends.
  3. Seminars and Guest Speakers Employees will enjoy a free ticket (and maybe an afternoon off) to attend a local seminar about personal development, sales, or anything related to your industry. Without standards to meet, they are free to absorb the information that is of interest to them. Bringing someone to the office to give a talk or a presentation is generally less time-consuming and expensive than sending all the employees to a conference, but there are similar benefits to be enjoyed. It’s a quick change of pace for employees and offers new information they can incorporate as they see fit.
  4. Ropes Courses A ropes course can be physically demanding, which can improve focus and determination while boosting self-confidence and overcoming fear. It also teaches leadership, teamwork, communication, and resourcefulness.
  5. Escape Rooms Like the ropes course, an escape room is a recreational opportunity to improve communication, problem-solving, and teamwork among your employees.
  6. Volunteering Helping others is rewarding, and it offers the volunteers an opportunity to learn on-site skills required for the project, reinforcing their own trust in their ability to learn quickly and act efficiently.
  7. Company Sports or Happy Hour Joining a recreational soccer, softball, or volleyball league or attending happy hour together gives participants an opportunity to get to know each other better and encourages conversations (that will likely be work-related at least part of the time). In this way, employees can stay up-to-date on what’s going on in other departments, which they might not have time to do during the workday. Sports leagues also encourage exercise, which comes with its own list of benefits, including increased energy and improved sleep, that can improve employee performance. Of course, it also builds teamwork and company pride.
  8. Trip to a Trade Show, Manufacturing Facility, or Company Headquarters Salespeople will appreciate learning how their products are made, and employees in a field office might feel an increased loyalty toward the company after a visit to headquarters and a meeting with upper management. Getting away from the office and attending a trade show can spark renewed interest and innovation in the workplace.
  9. Book Club Start a voluntary, informal book club within your organization. Choose a book each month that encourages personal growth or relates to your objectives as a company. Conduct short weekly meetings, in-person or virtual, to discuss what you’ve read.
  10. Allowance for Learning on Their Own Time Provide your employees with a small allowance to be used toward an educational opportunity of their choice. This might mean an online course, an in-person class, or even a short trip. You don’t necessarily have to require them to spend the money on a class that directly relates to their positions. The employees will benefit from anything they choose to learn; even if it simply boosts their morale and enjoyment, the company will benefit from a happier, healthier employee.

These are only a few of the informal training examples you can use to help you increase employee engagement. Informal educational opportunities encourage your employees to keep learning and growing. We would love to help you create a culture of growth in your company that incorporates both formal and informal learning in the workplace to benefit your employees and your business.

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