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Someone recently asked me about “learning in the flow of work,” a “new” concept “coined” by a popular L&D consultant; based on what I’ve heard, this concept sounds like a shiny new way to say “informal learning,” which has been around for a while. So, before you buy into this “new” concept, let’s review a few research articles dedicated to informal learning.

Approximately 80% of workplace learning takes place through informal interactions that help employees acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for their work (Ham & Cho, 2015; Marsick, 2006)

Facilitating Effective Informal Online Learning

In a metasynthesis of qualitative and mixed methods studies related to adults’ informal online learning, researchers identified two principles that support the effective facilitation of heutagogy (Holland, 2019):

  1. Learners should have an opportunity to engage in collaborative learning. Interaction opportunities spanning the entire spectrum of engagement should be provided to support knowledge construction and learner empowerment, and organizations should allow opportunities for learners to communicate with others during knowledge construction.
  2. Learning objects should be search friendly. By creating discrete, segmented, titled, and tagged learning objects, organizations can facilitate personalized learning. Learning administrators should curate or create segmented content pieces, provide context, and provide a relevant title to inform learners.

Key Takeaway: As a learning program manager, you can encourage “learning in the flow of work” by providing a collaborative learning environment and by segmenting learning content to facilitate discovery.

Read More ($): Holland, A.A. (2019). Effective principles of informal online learning design: A theory-building metasynthesis of qualitative research. Computers & Education, 128, 214-226.

Informal online learning is the unstructured learning that happens in daily life while people are accessing the internet (Holland, 2019)

The Impact of Informal Learning on Work Performance

What’s the relationship between informal learning and organizational performance? That’s the question addressed by a study conducted in 2019. In this study, participants in the medical field were surveyed on their informal learning practices (including co-worker interaction, information utilization, self-reflection, and job performance), their learning transfer, and their clinical performance. The results of this study were consistent with those of previous studies and found that nurses often learn through collaborative learning opportunities (like networking and cooperation with their colleagues), as well as independent learning activities. Researchers also noted that trial and error was an important part of nurses’ informal learning, which is kind of scary from a patient perspective. Ultimately, this study found significant correlations between informal learning, learning transfer, and work performance.

Key Takeaway: Organizations can improve worker performance by establishing an organizational culture to support various types of informal learning and by developing programs for effective learning transfer.

Read More ($): Yun, J., Kim, D. H., & Park, Y. (2019). The influence of informal learning and learning transfer on nurses' clinical performance: A descriptive cross-sectional study. Nurse Education Today, 80, 85-90.

Informal learning entails individuals engaging in learner-directed, unstructured, and often spontaneous activities to gain the knowledge and experience needed to perform a task (Dennen & Wang, 2002; Jacobs & Park, 2009; Marsick & Volpe, 1999)

Ways to Facilitate Informal Learning in the Workplace

Most instructional designers are dedicated to creating formal learning opportunities for the audience they support. But, are they also fostering informal learning as well? In an article published in 2020, surveyed about 400 instructional designers to answer this question. Their findings revealed that instructional designers can and do facilitate informal workplace learning by increasing opportunities for employees to discover relevant materials and engage in collaborative learning by sharing knowledge with colleagues. This study confirms that instructional design professionals can facilitate informal learning in a number of ways, helping them to achieve their goal of improving workplace performance. Activities to facilitate informal learning included:

  • Sharing materials, resources, and knowledge
  • Using job aids, checklists, tools, videos, etc.
  • Searching online for job-relevant information
  • Participating in mentoring and/or coaching
  • Establishing or contributing to communities of practice

Key Takeaway: Instructional designers aren’t just limited to the creation of formal/non-formal learning opportunities; they can also facilitate effective informal learning practices.

Read More ($): Moore, A.L., & Klein, J.D. (2020). Facilitating Informal Learning at Work. TechTrends, 64, 219–228.

Just a note: I'll be OOO next week -- so while you won't have any fresh LSW news in your inbox, I'll be thinking of you, dear readers, while I'm taking some much-needed time off. See you on the other side!

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The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Julia Huprich, Ph.D. Our head of growth and community is Julieta Cygiel.

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