What is Informal Learning? What is the difference between Informal and Formal Learning? How can Informal Learning be applied to eLearning scenarios?

Informal learning is any learning that is organized differently compared to the formal learning that happens inside classroom, either online or regular, because it has no pre-determined and clear objectives in terms of knowledge or learning outcomes.

This is also underlined by the fact that informal learning happens unintentionally from the learner’s standpoint.

According to various education specialists 70% of one’s learning is experiential, 20% takes place through social or collaborative activities and only a 10% is through formal training programs.

Informal learning comes in a variety of forms, such as watching videos, reading articles that draw the learner’s interest, participating in online communities, coaching sessions or even by playing serious or commercial games. For instance, an example of informal learning would be a new employee who has no idea how to use a software or a tool, to be helped by a colleague on the spot by showing the new-comer how to operate it. This spontaneous and immediate demonstration and acquisition of knowledge is an example of informal learning. 

Benefits of informal learning

  • Relaxing experience

Informal learning is a stress-free, less-threatening experience since there is no pressure due to lack of formal tests and evaluation methods

  • Low level of procrastination

Excitement and curiosity happen during informal learning situations since the learner becomes involved with topics that interest him, thus diminishing boredom and procrastination.

  • Easy to happen

Informal learning activities fit easily in today’s way of living. People have mobile devices in their disposal that can play the role of transmitting that knowledge without the need to be physically present to a location.

How to foster informal eLearning into an organization / school?

So the question arises. How can Informal Learning happen online? It is the author’s belief that informal learning happens easily in social – constructivist environments. Online communities can play a vital role in the transmittance of knowledge into an informal setting.  

The Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) in an organization can take part in online forums (fora) and share their knowledge and expertise amongst co-workers, who will have the chance to ask them questions and ask for guidance in the subject of interest.

Organizations can appoint outsourced speakers or conduct online seminars related to the learners’ industry. This can happen through tele-conference tools that can be implemented in an LMS, allowing the learners to both take part into the seminar and watch it later in a time that suits him/her.

Social media, especially LinkedIn, can be proven really beneficial for the cause of informal learning, since the employees of an organization can easily connect, discuss and share their knowledge and assistance with their co-workers.

All in all it can be concluded that Informal learning happens when the interests of the people are taken into consideration making it more probable to learn, since they themselves choose when and what to learn. informal learning in elearning environments is a great strategy for organizations that want to enhance the abilities of their workers in a more interesting, more pleasing and occasionally more successful way compared to formal training