Informal or formal, it’s all learning

There is a raft of research on both formal and informal learning, but what approach to learning is best suited to you and your Organisation? Well, our position on this…and yours may be different…is that you need both to truly maximise the benefits of each.

It is important that organisations promote a culture that facilitates the opportunities for informal learning to take place. Managing and measuring learning, particularly behavioural, that is intrinsically tied up in day-to-day activities is naturally challenging. Organisations therefore need to be clear about how they intend to promote informal learning and what informal learning means to them as a business. Some researchers suggest articulating desired learning outcomes from the process of informal learning (Clarke; 2004), but this then blurs the line between the two definitions…if we are defining and formalising outcomes, then the approach sits in both informal and formal camps. Blurring these lines just for the sake of being able to measure informal learning seems entirely illogical, however if these defining lines become less clear because an organisation is taking a holistic approach and recognising how they positively shape each other; that is, that they form a symbiotic relationship, then that is an entirely encouraging justification (coaching is a good example of this, it can be both formal and informal in delivery, but requires formal learning from the outset regardless). Indeed research undertaken suggests that “preoccupation with categorising learning as either formal or informal is unhelpful” (Fuller et al. 2003: 46); therefore organisations would be better served by focussing on developing the broader skills, knowledge and behaviours that support and feed informal learning, if they are to truly reap the rewards of both forms of learning.

Clarke, N. (2004) ‘HRD and the Challenges of Assessing Learning in the Workplace’, International Journal of Training and Development 8(2): 140-156

Fuller, A., Ashton, D., Felstead. A., Unwin, L., Walters, S. and Quinn, M (2003) The Impact of Informal Learning at Work on Business Productivity. London: Department for Trade and Industry.