Informal learning is a catalyst for building our interest in the world, and it contributes to our desire to seek more information. In short, the importance of informal learning lies in its ability to satisfy our curiosity while enhancing our knowledge base and skill sets.
Recognizing Examples of Informal Learning
The concept of informal learning can be easily understood by considering illustrations that capture the impromptu nature of this type of learning. Below are five examples of informal learning:
- A grandson teaching his grandmother how to use a smartphone
- A resident showing a new neighbor a shortcut to the interstate
- A parent teaching a child how to tie his or her shoes
- A student showing a new pupil the layout of a high school
- A person learning about Kenyan culture by clicking on an article while surfing the internet
The examples above demonstrate the flexibility and beauty of informal learning. It is typically unplanned and unfolds in a format that lacks formal organization. The “teacher” can be a person of any age, as can the “learner”.
Informal learning can even take place without the presence of a second person. The internet, television, radio and advertisements can capture the attention of a person with a learning mindset.
What Makes Informal Learning Unique?
Unlike other forms of learning, informal learning is spontaneous and occurs without set methodology. Below are the three key elements of how informal learning stand apart from social learning and formal learning:
- There is no training schedule or syllabus
- Tends to occur at unplanned points in time
- There are no tests or quizzes
Perhaps the most significant of these characteristics is the ability for informal learning to occur spontaneously and regardless of time or location.
Whereas formal learning typically occurs within the confines of a classroom or training facility, informal learning can occur in the car with friends, at home with family or in a coffee shop when you decide to click on an article while surfing the internet.
The Importance of Informal Learning in the Workplace
By encouraging employees to develop a learning mindset, employees will continue to build their skills and education outside of the training arena.
The spontaneity and lack of structure associated with informal learning earns some criticism from hard-line academics; however, informal learning successfully prepares people to benefit from the formal learning process. This is especially true in the workplace, where employees garner much of their knowledge and skill through informal learning. Below is an exploration of some of the ways that informal learning is manifested in the workplace.
How Informal Learning Occurs in the Workplace
Informal learning approaches are prevalent throughout most work environments. They can occur in the break room or the hallway just as frequently as the conference room. Below are a few illustrations of informal learning occurring in the workplace:
- A salesperson sharing a sales tip with a co-worker by the water cooler
- An employee’s voluntary participation in a coaching or mentoring program
- A co-worker showing a new employee how to use the company intranet
- An account executive learning about a competitor’s products through social media
- Team collaboration among production employees to ship a large order
- Participation in online discussions
As in the case of the previous set of examples, informal learning in the workplace can occur in any company department and in a variety of settings. Informal learning is often responsible for the majority of an employee’s acquired knowledge about day to day job duties and office procedures.
Incorporating Informal Learning into Your Online Training Program
The task of integrating informal learning into a structured training program requires the training staff to encourage employee participation in impromptu learning activities. Three key ways to accomplish are:
- Educate employees about the benefits of developing a learning mindset
- Establish a culture of learning in the workplace
- Foster employee engagement within the organization
About Knowledge Anywhere
Knowledge Anywhere is an elearning company focused on providing flexible, modern learning and development solutions that enable organizations to harness the power of an engaged, knowledgeable workforce.
Our Learning Management System, Virtual Reality Training, and Course Development services, combined with our experience and customer support enables our users to create a learning and development program that boosts sales and drives company growth.
Learn how you put education at the center of your organization with these great articles and resources.