The Importance of Informal Learning at the Workplace

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Earlier blog posts have stressed on how workplace learning has evolved over the years and L&D managers are re-inventing the wheel to meet the demands of the ‘millennial audience’. In this blog post, we examine ‘informal learning’ and see how it can play a major role in modern workplace learning.

Informal Learning

Understanding Informal Learning?

Let’s take a simple example, you are learning to drive a car. You enroll at a driving school and the driving instructor takes you through each step of the way teaching how the brakes, steering, and accelerator works and lets you drive under his supervision. This is a case of formal learning.

Consider a scenario, wherein you are planning to go on a solo-trip perhaps to Paris. You have never been to Paris before and don’t know anyone there. You start looking at various travel websites, blog posts by travel bloggers, and follow travel groups on Facebook for further information. Once you have a clear plan and a travel itinerary in place; you look for best deals on travel and accommodation and purchase tickets and book your hotel stay. No one guided you through this entire research process nor did you follow any specific learning model. All you did was research, read through, and take a decision based on inputs and reviews given by other travelers. This is a good example of informal learning.

The 70:20:10 Learning & Development Model

Several organizations ‘claim’ to deploy the 70:20:10 Learning & Development Model to train their employees. To summarize this model, learning at the workplace happens as follows:

  • 70% of learning is experiential.
  • 20% of learning is social.
  • 10% of learning is formal.
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With this formula in place, wherein only 10% of the learning at the workplace is categorized as ‘formal learning’, there is ample scope to innovate and deliver learning in engaging and efficient ways. Despite claims of deploying the 70:20:10 L&D Model, most organizational training is still restricted to instructor-led and blended learning modules comprising video-lectures and traditional assessments.

Training the Millennial Workforce

Generation Z and the Millennial Workforce are terms used to denote an entire generation of youngsters entering the workforce across different industries.  Typically described as hyperactive and easily distracted; the challenge is to keep these fresh college grads focused and engaged at the workplace. Most major organizations offer full-fledged training programs that help integrate these grads into the mainstream workforce.

A balanced mix of formal, informal, and experiential learning is the right approach to train them. Organizations deploy informal learning solutions that incorporate bite-sized learning nuggets and adaptive-learning models to train the workforce. These type of learning nuggets are easy to access and allow them to learn when they are commuting or have leisure time on holidays. From an organizational viewpoint, bite-sized learning nuggets need a lower budget to develop, are easier to build, deploy, and track learner progress. Flexible design lets organizations modify and update the learning nuggets with ease based on user feedback.

Benefits of Informal Learning at the Workplace

Learners do not have to be forced to learn. Informal learning is designed to directly motivate the learner to complete the course. As there is no pre-determined path or forced structure, learners choose to pick topics that interest them and this in turn boost course completion rates. When learning comes out of passion and interest rather than a forced rule; retention of learning is greater. In an informal learning setup, you will observe a free and friendly interaction among learners and ‘subject matter experts’. This, in turn, helps learners clarify their queries and acquire knowledge with ease.

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One can never discount the popularity of message boards and forums in learning and knowledge-sharing. The advent of social learning is just an off-shoot of the original forums and the friendly banter there though to a wider more open audience now with all the bells and whistles of apps, emojis, stickers, instant messaging etc.

Learning from the Pioneers

Companies like Intel, Nike, and Google have pioneered the use of informal learning in their organizations to make learning fun, interactive, and easily accessible. Yammer which began as a private instant messaging tool has evolved into a powerful social learning tool that delivers informal learning with ease and is used by organizations globally.

Salesforce Trailhead

Salesforce is best known for its powerful CRM software. Commanding a major share in the global CRM software market, the team at Salesforce came up with a powerful and intuitive solution to train Salesforce users. The solution came in the form of – Trailhead – a beautifully designed learning platform that allowed Salesforce users to stay up-to-date with the latest product upgrades and use the product effectively. Combining informal, social, and guided learning and structuring the learning into interesting courses grouped by subject category and learner levels, Trailhead is truly blazing a success trail for Salesforce.

The key question for L&D leaders is to be prepared with an informal learning strategy and offer employees an engaging learning experience. Is your organization ready with an informal learning strategy yet??

We at Origin Learning can help you formulate an informal learning strategy, design and deploy learning nuggets, and deliver measurable learning that shows RoI. Write to us at for more information.

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