How to Invest in Informal Learning


Recent articles and posts prompted me to think about informal learning. At least one of the two words is easy to understand.

Learning – The acquisition of knowledge or skills through study, experience, or being taught.

What is Informal Learning?

Making learning ‘informal’ however does not change learning.  Like ‘formal learning’, ‘informal learning’ is the ability to acquire new knowledge and skill. The critical distinction comes in the difference between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’.

Formal learning is acquiring the knowledge and skills using learning resources that have been developed for that purpose. Those learning resources exist because there was an investment in a process to develop and make the resource available. The process to create the resource is what learning and development does for the organization They follow a structured methodology to develop and deliver the learning resources.

A graph of the Learning Organization, which focuses on informal learning

The Shift from Formal to Informal Learning

Does this process change when we shift from formal to informal? In my opinion, the process does not change. What does change however is the learner takes on the responsibility for the process. It is the learners who follows a process that:

  • identifies the knowledge and skills required
  • figures out where to get them
  • practices with them until they are competent

This informal process is simpler than the formal instructional systems design methodology but is none the less a process. Investing in informal learning requires an investment in developing the ability of the individual employees to use this simpler process.

A second key distinction of this ‘informal’ process is the employees engage with it in two different ways. They must be the learner when they need the new knowledge and skill and they must become the trainer when they already have the knowledge and skill.

An investment in ‘informal learning’ is made by enhancing the ability of employees to:

  • describe required knowledge and skills using a consistent structure
  • create job aids based on their knowledge and skills
  • deliver on-the-job training

Investing in developing these abilities for all employees also enables them to continually engage in informal learning as a learner and a trainer.  Stay tuned for a follow-on post with details on how to further develop theses ‘informal learning’ abilities.



Jim Sweezie
VP Research and Product Development