Informal Learning Matters


When developing workplace training and development programs, we have learned that good training design in based on the principles of adult learning. Adult learning, otherwise known as andragogy, differs from child-centered learning, known as pedagogy. Child-centered learning is perceived as traditional education which is structured and relies on external sources for motivation. Andragogy, relies on the principle of self-motivation and the application of past experience in the learning process for adults.

As we move though childhood into adulthood one of the major markers is the transition from school to work. For many Canadians, formal education begins with pre-school, at age 3 or 4 and extends well into young adulthood and post-secondary education. Following a school based education system provides most of us with at least twenty years of structured, formal learning. As we leave childhood, pedagogy and formal education may move behind us, but the need for learning does not stop. Learning happens differently once we move into adulthood. What was once filled by structured education shifts to the application of increased informal learning methodologies for adult learners.

According to recent research, the need for informal learning for working adults is on the rise. Brian Kessel explores the relationship between formal and informal learning in the workplace based on the statistics provided by the Conference Board of Canada.

Click here to read the article.

As noted in the article, as adults we may not have abandoned the concepts of formal learning completely.  Perhaps our need for formal learning is based on the fact that, for many of us, education was provided in a structured way for so many years and the imprint of those long-term processes are ingrained into our adult brains.

The good news is that that those brains continue to adapt and look for ways to keep learning alive both formally and informally as we progress throughout our adulthoods.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much time per week do you spend on informal learning in the workplace?
  2. As an adult, which learning environment is more comfortable for you – formal or informal? Explain your rationale
  3. Why should workplaces differentiate or categorize learning as formal or informal?


Brain Learning


Human beings have amazing brains. We are able to think, create, and produce at an astounding rate thanks to the thousands of cell-based activities that take place in our grey matter. Most importantly our brains allow us to learn, and to keep learning, well into mature adulthood.

In his article, Inside the Learning Brain, Nick Dam provides a framework for effective corporate learning based on the theories of cognitive neuroscience – brain learning.

Click here to read the article.

In order for corporate learning to take place, Dam confirms that adult learners must have an environment that allows for focused attention, high engagement, and single-tasking. At the same time, the environment that supports adult brains for effective learning is shifting rapidly through the ever-increasing intervention of external technology, especially social media.

The impact of this type of environment and its effect on learning is explored in the following clip: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains.

Both the article and the video clip support a common premise that we need to embed information into memory in order for learning to take place. This is called memory consolidation, which allows us to build knowledge; built knowledge allows for new learning to take place. This type of learning happens when our brains are allowed to be peaceful and focused. As we see in the video clip, memory consolidation and learning is becoming more challenging as our technology-driven brains crave the external stimulus of constant interruptions.

From a training and development perspective, the challenge for the Human Resources practitioner is to create the conditions and the space that enable effective learning to happen.

We need to work hard to figure out how to do this — but first, one more cute kitten video.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How much time per day do you give yourself for quiet contemplation, with no external distractions?
  2. Thinking of your own learning patterns. How much information have you retained from yesterday’s Internet searches?
  3. Are your work or study patterns focused on single-tasking or multi-tasking? Which pattern is easier? Why?