“From families sharing stories around a dinner table to a worker emailing a colleague for help with a software program, informal learning is a frequent occurrence in nearly all facets of life. Moreover, informal learning has been a primary learning method since early human beings passed on the knowledge of how to craft stone tools.” So Tony Bingham, President and CEO ASTD, introduces a 2008 survey by ASTD and i4cp, Tapping the Potential of Informal Learning. This is a really useful 72 page report which provides a fascinating insight into learning professionals thoughts on informal learning and some of the findings were shared by ASTD at their recent relaunch in the UK with the Learning Sanctuary.
The start of the executive summary makes the challenge clear in studying this area: “If learning were an iceberg, then formal training and development would only be its tip. Most learning is informal in nature and takes place beneath the waterline—invisible, and therefore much harder to understand. Informal learning, for purposes of this report, is defined as “a learning activity that is not easily recognizable as formal training and performance support…[taking] place without a conventional instructor and…employee-controlled in terms of breadth, depth, and timing.” By its very nature, informal learning is difficult to comprehend in detail and equally hard to manage.”
Some of the basic findings were 75% of participants recognize the incidence of informal learning in their organisations to a moderate or higher extent. And 56% expect this to increase in the next three years.
Perhaps more interestingly 46% think informal learning enhances employee performance to a high extent and a further 37% to a moderate extent. The ASTD survey also found a positive correlation between improved organisational performance and higher uses of informal learning.
Almost half (49%) of the learning professionals believed that their employees want to ‘learn on demand’ and the top 4 means of doing this were:
Conclusions The report concludes with a series of recommendations which we would endorse from our experience: