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Informal Learning

Why you should support informal learning in the workplace


Imagine sitting in a cozy café and listening to a conversation at the next table about a new, fascinating topic. Without realizing it, you absorb new information that expands your knowledge and perhaps even changes your perspective. This everyday experience is a perfect example of informal learning - learning that takes place outside of classrooms and without predetermined curricula. It is an ongoing process that can happen in any situation and at any time.

However, many people are not aware of how to fully utilize the potential of informal learning. They often feel limited to formal learning methods and do not realize the multitude of learning opportunities they encounter on a daily basis. In this article, we will give you a comprehensive understanding of informal learning, highlight its many benefits and provide practical tips on how to integrate informal learning into your organization.


What is informal learning?

Informal learning is a process of acquiring knowledge and skills that occurs outside the formal education system. Unlike formal learning, which takes place in structured environments such as schools or universities and follows a set curriculum, informal learning happens spontaneously and is often driven by the learner’s curiosity and interests. It includes activities such as reading articles, watching videos, participating in discussions, observing others, and experimenting with new ideas.


Difference Between Formal, Non-formal, and Informal Learning

Formal Learning

This is structured, intentional learning that takes place within educational institutions, following a set curriculum and leading to certification or degrees. Examples include school education, university degrees, and professional training programs.


Non-formal Learning

This type of learning is also structured and intentional but occurs outside the formal education system. It is often organized by community groups, organizations, or workplaces and may not lead to formal certification. Examples include workshops, community education programs, and corporate training sessions.


Informal Learning

Informal learning is unstructured and often unintentional. It happens in everyday life, driven by the learner's interests and needs. Examples include learning through hobbies, casual conversations, internet browsing, and on-the-job experiences.




Informal Learning

Informal learning can take place in many ways and is often embedded in everyday activities and interactions. One of the most fundamental methods of informal learning is learning through observation and imitation. By watching experienced colleagues complete tasks and solve problems, your employees can acquire valuable knowledge and skills. This method is particularly effective in an environment that promotes collaboration and open communication.

Conversations with colleagues, mentors, and other professionals offer rich learning opportunities. Learning through social interactions occurs during coffee breaks, meetings, or informal discussions. The exchange of ideas and experiences significantly contributes to knowledge transfer. Encourage your employees to actively ask questions and participate in discussions to expand their knowledge.

Learning through practical experiences, or “learning by doing,” is one of the most effective methods of informal learning. By directly working on projects and tasks, your employees gain practical experience that complements and deepens their theoretical knowledge. This method allows them to learn through trial and error and develop innovative solutions.

The internet provides a wealth of learning resources that are accessible anytime and anywhere. Using digital media such as reading articles, watching instructional videos, listening to podcasts, and browsing online forums helps your employees expand their knowledge. Promote the use of these digital resources and provide access to high-quality learning content.

Self-directed learning encourages your employees to set their own learning goals and actively seek out knowledge. This can involve reading books, experimenting with new technologies, or exploring new topics. Support your employees by providing time and resources for self-directed learning.

Participating in communities of practice involves groups of people who share a common interest or field and regularly come together to exchange knowledge and learn from each other. Encourage your employees to join such communities or form internal groups to promote the exchange of best practices and new insights.

Finally, informal workshops and training sessions can provide a relaxed environment where employees can learn new skills and expand their knowledge. These events should be interactive and practical to maximize learning.

By promoting these methods of informal learning, you create an environment where continuous learning and professional development become the norm. Your employees will benefit from the diverse learning opportunities, and your company will gain in innovation and competitiveness.



Informal Learning

Flexibility and Adaptability

One of the greatest advantages of informal learning is its flexibility. Unlike formal education programs, which often have fixed schedules and structures, informal learning can take place anytime and anywhere. It adapts to individual needs and interests, meaning you can learn whenever and wherever it suits you best. This flexibility allows you to integrate learning opportunities into your daily routine without requiring additional time or resources.


Cost Efficiency

Informal learning is often low-cost or even free. It doesn't require expensive course fees, learning materials, or equipment. Many resources for informal learning, such as online articles, videos, podcasts, and social media, are freely accessible. This makes it an attractive option for people who want to continue their education without making significant financial investments.


Lifelong Learning and Continuous Development

Informal learning promotes a culture of lifelong learning. Since there are no fixed start and end points, it can be a constant companion throughout life. It allows you to continuously develop and stay up-to-date, regardless of your age or professional situation. Through constant learning and adaptation, you can continually expand and enhance your skills and knowledge.


Promotion of Creativity and Innovation

Informal learning fosters creativity and innovation as it is often driven by personal interests and curiosity. It encourages the exploration of new topics and unconventional paths. Without the pressure of formal assessments and exams, you can experiment more freely and develop new ideas. This creative freedom can lead to innovative solutions and new approaches in both your professional and personal life.


Personalization and Autonomy

Another advantage of informal learning is the ability to personalize it. You can decide what, how, and at what pace you want to learn. This autonomy enhances motivation and engagement, as you can focus on topics that truly interest you and are relevant to your personal or professional goals. This personalized approach to learning allows you to be more effective and efficient in acquiring knowledge.


Practicality and Immediate Applicability

Informal learning is often practical and immediately applicable. Since it frequently occurs in real-world contexts and through hands-on experiences, the knowledge and skills acquired can be applied right away. This contrasts with theoretical knowledge that often remains abstract in formal education programs and must be implemented later. Through informal learning, you can immediately benefit from your knowledge and apply it in your daily life.


Nadine Pedro
[Translate to English:] Nadine Pedro, chemmedia AG

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Promote informal learning

You should promote informal learning within your company because it offers a dynamic and flexible approach to employee development and fosters a culture of continuous learning and innovation. Unlike formal training programs, informal learning happens organically through everyday interactions, experiences, and self-directed exploration. This allows your employees to acquire new skills and knowledge in a more engaging and relevant manner. By encouraging informal learning, you can enhance employee motivation and job satisfaction, as they feel empowered to take control of their own development. Additionally, this approach leads to quicker problem-solving and more innovative solutions, as your employees are constantly exposed to new ideas and perspectives. Ultimately, by promoting informal learning, you contribute to creating a more agile and adaptable workforce, better equipped to meet the ever-changing challenges of today's business environment.

Creating a Learning-Friendly Corporate Culture

One of the most important prerequisites for promoting informal learning is to create a corporate culture that values learning and development. Companies can foster such a culture by:

  • Embedding learning and knowledge sharing into the company values.
  • Presenting leaders and managers as role models for continuous learning.
  • Publicly recognizing and rewarding achievements and progress resulting from informal learning.

Providing Learning Resources

Provide your employees with access to a variety of learning resources, such as:

  • Digital libraries with books, articles, and studies.
  • E-learning platforms and online courses.
  • Subscriptions to professional journals and online magazines.
  • Access to webinars and online conferences.

Promoting Networks and Communities

Support the building and maintenance of networks and communities within and outside the company:

  • Organize regular meetings and workshops on various topics.
  • Encourage exchange in internal social networks or dedicated group platforms.
  • Support participation in external networks, professional associations, and conferences.

Establishing Mentoring and Coaching Programs

Implement formal and informal mentoring and coaching programs:

  • Pair new employees with experienced colleagues who can act as mentors.
  • Offer regular coaching sessions to discuss and track individual learning goals.
  • Encourage peer coaching, where colleagues support and learn from each other.

Project-Based Learning and "Learning by Doing"

Enable your employees to learn through practical experiences:

  • Involve them in cross-functional projects and working groups.
  • Encourage them to take on responsibility for new and challenging tasks.
  • Promote experimentation and the testing of new ideas without fear of failure.

Utilizing Digital Tools and Platforms

Use modern technologies to support informal learning:

  • Implement knowledge management systems that facilitate the exchange and archiving of knowledge.
  • Use platforms like Slack or Microsoft Teams for daily knowledge sharing and discussions.
  • Encourage the use of podcasts, online videos, and other digital learning content.

Creating Flexibility and Time for Learning

Provide time and flexible working conditions that enable informal learning:

  • Offer flexible working hours and remote work options so employees can find time for self-study and informal learning.
  • Schedule regular "learning breaks" or dedicated learning days when employees can focus on professional development.
  • Encourage short, informal learning moments throughout the workday, such as during coffee breaks.

Offering Feedback and Reflection Opportunities

Promote a culture of continuous feedback and reflection:

  • Implement regular feedback sessions where employees can share and reflect on their learning experiences.
  • Encourage open discussions about learning successes and challenges and learning from mistakes.
  • Use employee surveys and discussions to evaluate the effectiveness of learning initiatives and identify areas for improvement.

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Utilizing Digital Tools and Platforms

for informal learning

Utilizing digital tools and platforms is a crucial part of promoting informal learning within your company. Modern technologies offer numerous opportunities to share knowledge and facilitate access to learning resources. Here are some approaches to effectively leverage digital media:



Implement Knowledge Management Systems

Implement knowledge management systems that facilitate the exchange and archiving of knowledge. These systems allow your employees to access important information and best practices, share documents, and collaborate on projects. By centrally collecting and organizing knowledge, your employees can work more efficiently and quickly access relevant information.



Use Communication Platforms

Use platforms like Slack or Knowledgeworker Share to encourage daily knowledge sharing and discussions. These tools offer features such as chat, video calls, and file sharing, which ease collaboration and the informal exchange of knowledge. Encourage your employees to actively use these platforms to ask questions, share experiences, and work together on solutions.



Provide Access to Online Resources

Give your employees access to a variety of online resources, including e-learning platforms, webinars, podcasts, and blogs. These digital learning contents offer flexible learning opportunities that your employees can use at their own pace and according to their individual interests. Regularly highlight interesting and relevant content to promote engagement and use of these resources.



Develop Interactive Learning Content

Create interactive learning content such as videos, quizzes, and simulations that actively engage your employees. Interactive content is often more engaging and helps to reinforce learning. Use internal experts to create content tailored to the specific needs and challenges of your company.



Encourage Virtual Learning and Exchange Groups

Encourage your employees to form virtual learning and exchange groups. These groups can meet regularly online to discuss various topics, share experiences, and learn from each other. Virtual groups offer a flexible and location-independent way to support informal learning and promote knowledge exchange.



By effectively utilizing digital tools and platforms, you can significantly support informal learning within your company. These technologies enable your employees to continuously educate themselves, share knowledge, and work together on innovative solutions. Integrating digital media into your learning strategy creates a modern and learning-friendly environment that enhances the success and competitiveness of your company.



The bottom line.

Informal learning is a powerful and flexible method for continuously expanding knowledge and skills. It seamlessly integrates learning into daily work life and promotes a culture of constant development. By leveraging everyday interactions, digital media, and practical experiences, employees can naturally enhance their competencies. Companies that actively encourage informal learning create a dynamic and innovative environment. This not only contributes to individual professional growth but also strengthens the company's competitiveness. A deliberate integration of informal learning methods can lead to quicker problem-solving and creative approaches. Ultimately, both employees and the company benefit from such a learning culture.

Janet Beier | Senior Marketing Manager
Janet Beier
eLearning author

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