Formal and Informal Learning: What's the Difference? - EmployeeConnect
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Formal and Informal Learning: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to corporate training, quite often organisations are baffled whether they should lean towards the difference between a formal pathway and informal pathway. While there are multiple opinions on both the forms of learning, there is certainly more than one approach for each one of them.

The key, however, lies in the fact that the training experience you select largely relies on your organisation’s requirement, challenges, and objectives or goals. Jay Cross’s book Informal Learning compares the two modes of learning to riding a bus and riding a bike. He argues that informal learning is more effective because it is more natural and allows for more creativity and innovation.

For instance, if you decide to ride the formal learning bus, it is the driver who decides where to head, and the passengers merely ride along. But you can choose where to go, how fast to go, and what route to take if you decide to learn informally.

To understand the difference between a formal pathway and informal pathway, let’s take a closer look at both these approaches from a corporate training standpoint.

Understanding the Concept of Formal Learning

What is formal learning? learning programs are programs which are typically synonymous with a Learning Management System (LMS) and have its curriculum and courses mapped in a structured manner. Since it is a structured form of learning, the content for this type of learning is usually designed and created by a group of qualified instructional designers and trainers.

The content development process for formal learning programs usually takes longer. The instructional designers, graphic designers, and programmers are all involved in creating the courseware. They make and design long through storyboards or presentations, which are then developed by the graphic designers and published after incorporating the functionalities via a complex LMS tool set by programmers.

The content and the learning materials can be deployed either online or delivered via a traditional classroom training session, with a facilitator driving the course. It can also be delivered via live webinars or using the screen sharing technology so that even remote learners can attend the sessions and gain knowledge.

Formal learning is a relatively preferred mode of training for organisations who wish to have more control over the training experience of their employees. There are a lot of different varieties of LMS options that you can choose from. Each of them offers different levels of price, functionality, support, and flexibility.

Understanding the Concept of Informal Learning

Informal learning programs, on the other hand, are training programs that offer a lot more flexibility in the way content is created and used by learners. Organisations can create and deploy content faster by removing the need for a formal full-scale LMS. This makes sense in some cases, depending on how urgent the training requirement is.

In informal learning, content is created by subject matter experts from across the organization, rather than just a few instructional designers. This allows for a faster content creation process by involving a subject matter expert. This expert can create more content faster because they understand the needs of the target audience better than instructional designers.

Informal learning is often considered more convenient for the target audience, especially when it is coupled with mobile-friendly courses and presentations. Informal learning enables organisations to save time on tedious live training sessions which tend to take time away from an employee’s productive hours.

Informal training programs also facilitate the easier division of the target audience for on-demand content by allowing the learners to choose the information they wish to learn. Instead of making them sit through the entire duration of the live training session where not all the topics delivered may be relevant for everyone alike.

It is also easier to share and distribute the content for informal learning using various social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. It is also more adaptable to mobile devices which facilitates on the go viewing and learning. In other words, a well designed informal training program provides information to its target audience anywhere and anytime.

A lot of organisations reuse the bulky power point presentations and convert them into voice-enriched on demand videos for its target audience. These videos can be easily deployed via an online web portal where anyone can access them. Trainers may also track and report the success of the learning material by establishing learning criteria and observing and making a note of who all viewed the content and so on.

The Deciding Factor

As stated earlier, the difference between a formal pathway and informal pathway is a tricky question for the organisation. It finally depends on your company’s requirement and challenges whether a formal or informal learning program is the best bet. For instance, you may take your call based on the following aspects:

  1. Content Development–Is it difficult to utilise the expertise of others in the company? How complicated is it to develop and deploy new content? Do you have issues in getting timely messages out quickly? How often do you need to update the content?
  2. Audience– Are live training sessions taking too much time from the productivity of your employees? Do the live training sessions have the desired effect? Do learners face issues to locate the follow-up information when they need it?
  3. Tracking and Reporting– How many people need to generate X number of reports? Do you wish to have more or less control over the required courses? What exactly are you planning to track with the help of this training program?

The answers to the above questions should hopefully help you define the some of the difference between a formal pathway and informal pathway, and give you a guide on which is your better choice.

The key thing to remember while developing your company’s training strategy is to list down your needs and objectives first, and then select the program that makes the most sense to you. You may even find that at times a blended learning approach comprising of both formal and informal training is the best way to go about.

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In the world of HR software, EmployeeConnect continues to be one of the leading industry providers of innovative solutions. We helps Australia business owners and people managers be more efficient, cost-effective and compliant by taking the hassle out of HR and payroll admin. If you spend more than an hour every day on HR administration (like on/off-boarding, performance review, or employee timesheets), then EmployeeConnect is here for you.

Byron Conway

Content Coordinator at EmployeeConnect