ATD Blog

Informal Learning, Not Leftover Learning

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The 70-20-10 principle has been successful in suggesting that 70 percent of learning occurs through experiences, 20 percent comes from interactions with others, and 10 percent is the result of formal training. In essence, this means that 90 percent of learning is happening through personal experiences and social interactions—both inside and outside of the organization. If that’s true, why do so many L&D professionals continue to focus their development efforts on formal learning experiences? Why do organizations dedicate much of their time and resources on the 10 percent, and overlook 90 percent of the learning spectrum.

If we agree that 90 percent of learning occurs outside of a structured, formal learning environment, we need to start including this informal learning in our organization's learning and development culture. What’s more, putting emphasis on informal learning is potentially low cost but high value.

Think about this: How many times have you had to recall information learned during formal training? Chances are high that you have a limited recollection of your formal learning experiences. Now try to recall an incident that enhanced your skill level and increased your knowledge multifold? Chances are high that what comes to mind is a chat with a colleague or a situation where you had to learn on the spot.

No doubt, formal learning has its place in the organization. It helps employees come together to share technical know-how, information, and content relevant to their job and performance. However, many skills that are crucial for workplace survival are developed using informal methods. Employees spend a significant amount of time simply learning through immersive, real-time experiences and social interaction. That’s because when we put ideas into practice, it leads to enhanced job performance.


The problem is that many of us don’t know where to start because informal learning has so many facets. For instance, informal learning can take place anytime, anywhere. It can occur during a chat over social media, or at the coffee machine. It can be on-demand content or via mentoring and coaching. It can happen between new or experienced colleagues. Informal learning even occurs through trial and error, when employees are given opportunities to start applying and experimenting with ideas.


The point: informal learning isn’t a one-time event. It is a process that occurs as employees observe and interact with each other within the environment. When done right, informal learning blends into the organizational culture, enabling colleagues to come together to ask questions, seek answers, observe peers performing tasks, and eventually master the skills they need to be effective. And when incorporated into the overall learning and development experience, informal learning enables employees to take control of their own growth and be in charge of their work and time. This adds to their personal learning curve, giving employees autonomy over their experience, knowledge, and content.

Informal learning isn’t a new phenomenon, and we need to stop considering it as a leftover from formal learning events. Informal learning can be a main course to savor. It just needs the right design intention and more attention within an organization.

Please join me at ATD 2018 International Conference & EXPO for the session: 13 Ways to Use Informal Learning to Enhance Workplace Performance. You will learn how to identify potential areas for informal learning and how to design learning solutions based on informal learning tactics.

About the Author

Priyanka Chopra is an independent instructional design and media consultant in Dubai. She has more than six years of experience in instructional design and development, research, publishing, media writing, and design.

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