Does Informal Learning Really Work?

In this blog post, I want to talk about informal learning and its value in the training industry. Informal learning is the unofficial and spontaneous way people learn to do something. While formal training events play a significant role in our learning, we also learn while talking to our colleagues, during meetings, by simply observing what other people do, and most importantly, through trial-and-error. In fact, according to research, formal learning only accounts for 10 to 20 percent of what people learn at work.  When people attempt to answer the question how they really learned to do their job, most of us agree that it wasn’t through formal schooling, webinars, or trainings, but rather through reading professional literature, searching the Internet, talking with experts and more experienced colleagues, and through either a coach or a mentor. Learning does not happen overnight. It is a skill that requires practice.  As you practice and become more experienced at what you do, the better your performance becomes.

The core of the problem is that after completing a formal training event, people come back to work and do not know how to apply what they learned. Companies invest a lot of money in formal training hoping that their employees will learn to do the job. The results that managers expect, however, have nothing to do with learning, but rather application of acquired knowledge and skills to the job. In other words, managers do not care whether learning is done formally or informally as long as they can see measurable results.

The best way to achieve these measurable results, in my opinion, is through a combination of formal and informal learning. Assigning a mentor or a coach to an employee will give better results (and will save the organization more money) than simply sending an employee to formal training classes.

As an Instructional Designer and E-Learning Specialist, I am not against formal training. In fact, I believe that going to formal classes and taking e-Learning courses can be extremely beneficial. However, as a Learning and Development professional, I strongly believe that both formal and informal learning should be taken into account to achieve the best possible results.

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