How to use Informal Learning to Develop New Skills

Informal learning has been rediscovered by several researchers and policy experts in recent years. But is such a thing actually possible?

What comes to mind when you consider the idea of learning? Courses, teachers, tests, and assignments? All of these are significant characteristics, yet learning isn’t always quantifiable. Whether we are aware of it or not, informal learning is a type of self-education that takes place daily. According to informal learning theory, humans learn around 90% of the time in a natural, unstructured, learner-driven manner.

In recent years, businesses have begun to recognize the importance of training their workforce and have created formal learning programs for their staff. But savvy and modern organizations have started to see the need to support informal training as well.

People everywhere must abandon the idea that education is a rite of passage that involves acquiring the credentials necessary to obtain an adult position in life. The goal of education should not be to impart a body of knowledge; but rather to foster the development of abilities, including the fundamental skills of literacy and numeracy. It should also include the capacity to act responsibly toward fellow humans, take initiative, and work creatively and collaboratively.

What does Informal Training look like?

A few characteristics set informal training apart from more formal learning methods. The main one is that it isn’t a structured method of learning. The learner typically stumbles into a learning environment naturally and unintentionally.

If we think about it, informal learning is how we acquire information most of the time. To illustrate this concept, let’s say you’re reading a book when a word you don’t know pops up. If you google it and learn what it means, you’ve learned something unintentionally. Or perhaps you’re playing a game with a friend and they offer suggestions on how to improve. Again, although it wasn’t your aim to learn anything, you did. There was no set plan to adhere to; no exams were taken or subjects chosen. Even though the learner may not have been aware of it because it happened spontaneously, nonetheless, learning took place.

Observing what informal learning employees now rely on or actively seek out is one of the best methods to determine what kinds of training and development will benefit them. Distribute self-assessments and questionnaires regularly so that staff members can share more details regarding recent informal learning they’ve participated in and what they’ve learned. To determine whether their sources or self-guided training were reliable, you may evaluate their expertise on the subjects they’ve professed to have mastered. Additionally, you can hold coaching and mentoring meetings where workers can share what they’ve learned outside the official workplace learning environment. Use the data to create new learning materials and programs focused on the subjects employees desire to learn more about; that will help them in their current positions or progress in their chosen careers.

What are the benefits of informal learning?

It is self-directed and learner-driven. People benefit from learning that is self-motivated and in their power. Informal education provides a sense of control by letting people choose what to learn and when.

The working environment is relaxed. Although required, formal training programs aren’t always simple for the learner. The burden of examinations, tasks, deadlines and required courses can be overwhelming. Informal training is less likely to cause conflict or be a demanding task for the learner because it is a more relaxed procedure.

It broadens the frame of reference and expertise of your staff. It’s beneficial to provide the formal training employees need to acquire knowledge. But when generated by subject matter specialists, it can become narrow, concentrating primarily on a few key ideas. Employees may learn new ideas, theories, and procedures that deepen their understanding when encouraged to conduct their own independent research on the issue. The corporation can then apply these outside lessons to grow the company.

Informal learning also lowers stress because no formal testing means no high-pressure situations. This stress-free environment can easily flow with daily work. Informal learning activities fit easily into a workday. People continue to learn and grow according to their needs to solve problems or get through a situation.

It also makes people more intuitive and in sync with their co-workers and clients. This intuition creates and encourages curiosity without the pressure of performance. People are free to follow their interests, even if they deviate from the original idea.

What are some informal learning activities to boost engagement?

1. Workplace mentoring: by putting new hires in pairs with seasoned workers, you may provide them an insight into how the organization operates.

2. Social media engagement: we can find industry information on LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media platforms. To stay current on news and trends, encouraging staff to connect online with your business and other thought leaders in the sector could go a long way.

3. Seminars: employees can take advantage of a complimentary ticket (and possibly an afternoon off) to a local lecture on self-improvement, sales, or anything else associated with your industry.

4. Volunteering: helping others is satisfying and gives volunteers a chance to pick up project-specific skills on the job, boosting their confidence and capacity for quick learning and effective action.

5. Allowance for learning during personal time: give your staff a small sum of money to put toward any educational opportunities of their choosing.

We should no longer perceive informal learning as a lesser type of education whose primary function is to serve as a bridge to formal education. Instead, we should see it as something fundamental and significant in and of itself.