1. Introduction

Ever since the coming inception of the first e-learning platforms, the behavior of learners has evolved. The type of content made available to them must therefore adapt.

Nowadays, many prefer to learn through other channels than those made available by their company. They are getting more and more content on Youtube or from articles, podcasts, webinars…

They tend to prefer shorter, more frequent content, which solves a given problem at a specific moment in a “just in time” approach.

Content that they can consume on their way to work or, more generally, when they have some free time and which contributes to the acquisition or reinforcement of skills.

When someone reads newspaper articles in the morning or listens to a podcast while driving, this is not formation (training), but rather it is information.

The same applies to corporate training. When we speak of a learning culture in a company, we could be tempted to say that we are training without even knowing it.

We must therefore revisit the classical definition of “training” as it becomes more difficult to distinguish training from informing. Informal learning is becoming more and more important.

From our point of view, this should not necessarily be seen as a qualitative reduction in training. Formal and informal should be seen as complementarity. Something that has always existed but is still in the “shadows”.

2. Formal and informal Learning

Companies therefore face the challenge of integrating and evaluating this information which could be listening to a podcast, reading an article or watching a tutorial on Youtube.

The good news is that with the creation of the xAPI standard, this has not only become possible, it has become accessible to all.

Given that the way learners train has evolved, if we limit our evaluation only to “formal” content, we cannot claim to have an accurate overview of everyone’s knowledge and skills.  However, it may turn out that this skill is not defined nor needed in the company’s reference system, and yet some employees possess it.

Measuring informal learning

Furthermore, we can say that putting aside this information or informal training slows down the growth in competence in your organization. It puts it at a competitive disadvantage relative to those organizations who apply it.

Similarly, this data can also be proof of an employee’s commitment to his/her job.

Indeed, we all know that motivation is key. It’s even sometimes the most fundamental requirement for some recruiters. We often hear things like “I am looking for motivated profiles” or “people have to like their job to do it well”.  So don’t you think that a person learning about job-related topics is a good indicator of passion about the job?  If so, why not value this information?

Last but not least, in a world where everything is speeding up, where skills and knowledge quickly become obsolete, creators of formal content can hardly keep up.  To complete the offer, it is possible to review and improve specific contents on some informal channels such as Facebook groups, Youtube…

3. Informal learning vs formal learning

So, the questions that naturally follow are the following.

At what point does a sum of informal training contribute to skill development? Does information over time contribute to memorization?

We believe so. We would even go as far as saying that this methodology can be more effective. First and foremost because the initiative is taken by the employee her/himself.  He/she is free to inform him/herself, whereas people can be forced to train (mandatory modules and compliance).

A better overview

Are you familiar with the 10,000-hour theory?  According to this theory of mastering a skill in 10,000 hours there is no theoretical training. It is only based on repetition of tasks, over time, with self-criticism.  Short, informal feedback, repetition over and over again.  Here, the key is the time spent on a subject.

Consider the example of an employee who relies on Youtube tutorials to create an Excel pivot table for his work. Is this equivalent to having done a formal training on Excel?  Is it the means (the learning methodology) or the result (he made my table) that matters?  And what if we could track all the time spent on these informal training contents?

The same is true for many skills, especially those referred to as “hard skills”.

The learner couples’ theory and practice which makes learning much more intuitive and reinforces retention mechanisms.

He also repeats the same tasks several times over an extended period. For the above-mentioned example, he creates many pivot tables during his career. This, in turn reinforces learning knowledge retention mechanisms. The forgetting curve can help us model this phenomenon.

On a global view, this methodology improves productivity while developing skills with time.

Of course, informal training is only one part of a well-structured learning environment, but it will constantly and positively impact your organization.

informal learning

4. Formal and informal learning, in short

Tracking informal learning via an LRS will increase your real-time knowledge of the skills available in the company.

With an informal learning strategy, you can track and analyze everything with Learning Analytics frameworks, which we will discuss in our next article.

Everything that goes along with the concepts of “user generated content” (content created by your learners) will enrich your environment with relevant content and promote collaborative learning where everyone shares their expertise.

Give learners access to tools that enable these methodologies to create a virtuous and continuous learning circle.  Consequently, learning will no longer be under constraint, and trust will be promoted.