Perhaps the highest level of learning with the deepest cognitive impact is informal learning. It’s what we call those precious learning moments where passion and curiosity meet to break all motivation and knowledge barriers. It is the self-directed learning that is triggered by an intrinsic drive and continues until all objectives in performance and knowledge have been achieved.
In this article, we’ll share with you the strategies to embed informal learning in your eLearning environment to capitalize on this excellent motivating learning style.
eLearning and informal learning can go hand in hand, provided you include the design features that promote choice and flexibility over the content. Formal eLearning design prevents learns from “skipping chapters”. It is like guided learning, where learners are forced to follow a strict chapter pathway and are tested periodically.
Let us explore informal and formal learning further to determine the pros and cons of each.
Informal learning is a great outlet for reflective practice or experiential learning. Learners enjoy the autonomy associated with informal learning. They gather knowledge from multiple sources, establish a pattern and choose what to believe and practice.
In fact, many individuals, in this current age of knowledge and data, have resorted to informal means to educate themselves to make their mark. And informal learning is not limited to individuals without a formal training or background. Professionals fighting to climb the corporate ladder, continue to “secretly” upgrade their skills by working at short online courses and workshops. Informal learning leads to empowerment and self-efficacy.
By contrast, what is formal learning? Formal learning is your regular college diploma, your standardized certifications and even course completion mandates set by an organization. A common factor in formal learning is that we barely have any choice of time or courses. Formal learning teaches skills “the expert” way.
Managers still prefer a college graduate when selecting candidates for hiring than someone who claims to be “self-taught”. While this fact motivates many of us to pursue multiple diplomas, very few continue a lifelong learning process in a formal setting.
Why is informal learning so popular and easier for learners? It is because of the freedom to explore and the degree of knowledge to acquire and also the order in which knowledge is gained – all are determined by the learner. Consider these 6 benefits of informal learning too:
1. Gathering and collecting the desired knowledge is easier today owing to the exhaustive media and devices we have. Informal learning does not require any prior learning experiences or prerequisites. All you need is the willingness to complete your learning.
2. Learning informally is more relaxing and less threatening for most people. With no exams or projects to complete within limited schedules, many learners commit to learning a new skill or a concept readily.
3. In an informal setting, you will find SMEs willing to share more knowledge than ever! So if you have a group of experts in your organization, simply arrange an informal meeting and have them share their expertise. Better yet, make them leaders in the online community where employees post questions and they can answer them. A low-stake, no-hot-spot setting is ideal for this kind of knowledge sharing and knowledge management.
4. Informal learning is close to natural learning. People tend to follow the pathway that best suits their individual needs. Lifelong learning is a great example of informal learning. We acquire more knowledge informally than formally.
5. Resistance to learn new concepts and ideas is also lower when learning is presented informally. Adult learners strive on autonomy and self-direction. They readily complete self-generated tasks.
6. Boredom and procrastination are replaced by excitement and curiosity. Time and cost barriers are almost non-existent in informal learning environments.
On the flip-side, formal learning is the very core of “qualification” – it creates credibility for the individual. Consider the following benefits of formal learning:
· Your organization can teach large numbers of employees the same information at the same time.
· The accuracy and currency of learning materials are of superior quality in formal learning environments.
· Employees are able to transfer their learning into performance faster when they are in formal learning programs.
· Formal learning programs can cater to a variety of learning needs and learning styles.
There are instances where informal learning cannot replace formal learning. The good news is, formal methods of learning do not have to be a life-long learning strategy. A mix of both the formal and the informal approach is highly recommended by experts.
For example, developing training programs that demonstrate the value of the content in the learner’s professional life before the learner begins the learning program. Also, when designing the content navigation of eLearning programs, provide the flexibility for learners to choose and learn about a topic in any order they desire. This places more control in the hands of the learner, bringing in the pleasant element of informal learning in a formal learning environment.
Scenario-based eLearning content also creates an informal learning environment. Learners decide the conclusion of a story that is teaching them a learning goal. Regardless of the scenarios selected, the learner arrives to the correct solution in the last scene.
Another element is the choice of avatars that will “guide through” the learning materials. A section for “good to know” content can also be made available for learners who would like to learn beyond the scope of the program. Creating a social media page of the eLearning course for casual chatting also creates a laid-back learning environment similar to informal learning.
Providing the freedom to adopt and implement a strategy to work on a group or individual project also fosters informal learning instincts in learners. Selecting their unique roles in a group according to their strengths also removes the conforming rules found in most formal courses. Creative freedom in assignments leads to an enjoyable learning experience. Having the learners prepare the rubric for grading also instills the learning responsibility in the learner.
Similarly, involving all learners to create common classroom rules in the eLearning environment places the locus of control for behavior and attitude on the learners. eLearning design features like these promote a customized learning environment that is similar to informal learning, yet retains the formal requirements.
Other good examples of fostering informal learning in an online learning environment is the concept of mentoring, incidental learning, on-the-spot learning, reflective practice and experiential learning. Each of these concepts can be implemented using collaboration features of the learning management system.
Informal learning is a great motivating strategy to continue the learning process. Successful organizations are learning organizations – that place a high value on learning regardless of the learning strategy. Informal learning yields greater learning pleasure and often leads to enhanced creativity and innovation.
Analyze your learners before beginning the eLearning course development process to ensure that you provide the value in your course that your learners are looking for. Be mindful of the natural learning tendencies of adult learners when creating your next eLearning course.