Pro Tip: Support Informal Learning with Formal Training

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Modern learning truth: everything’s a blend. Our audience learns perpetually; they turn to Google and each other when they need to know something immediately. As learning and development professionals, we need to adapt our design and facilitation approach to accommodate this new global, mobile, social, and always-changing reality.  

It seems like an insurmountable task. We already struggle to gain buy-in from stakeholders when we update technology or learning models. Our modern learners come to learning with low expectations and understandably distracted. And while we certainly have a long way to go to modernizing our approach, we can start the journey in a familiar place: formal training sessions. 

Back to Basics: What’s a Blend? 

Before we can change our instructional design model, we need to work with a common understanding. The Blended Learning Hub defines blended learning as: 

“A series of content blocks that are sequenced to create modern learning experiences. Typically, this is a managed, trackable curriculum with a beginning and an end. To accomplish this, learning objectives are matched to the most appropriate delivery medium and learning environment to ensure that participants learn through Facilitator-led delivery of content with some element of participant control over ‘where, when, pace or path’ in the overall program sequence." 

At its core, effective blended training matches defined learning objectives with authentic treatments. For example, are you training new sales reps on the basics of their jobs that they will perform over the phone at their desks? If so, design the training to take place at their desks using the technology they’ll work with on a daily basis. 


This approach combines traditional training sessions, either in person or online, with informal learning opportunities like microlearning assets and social collaboration. 

How to Bridge the Gap  

Informal learning implementation feels complicated. How do we plan for and structure learning elements that are inherently supposed to be unplanned and unstructured? I propose leveraging the formal training sessions – those events we are experts at designing and facilitating – to start the process. 

Our standard design approach involves creating a 100-page slide deck for formal training sessions, and making it available to learners. We hope that learners will remember to turn to that overwhelming slide deck in six months when they have a question about information we covered in class. Even more detrimentally, we often say at the end of a program, “Oh! By the way, there are job aids in the slide deck you can use later.” We don’t often concertedly and purposefully pull those resources into the formal events and talk about them. 


Instead, we need to look at the whole blend ahead of time and ask, “What will learners need later? How will they want to use that information?” We should design the resources for the formal training event based on the answers to those questions. Create a bundle of performance support assets, rather than a useless slide deck. Take that multi-purpose microlearning content and use it to deliver the formal training event. This revised method accomplishes two goals: teaching the content and teaching our learners how to use the informal learning tools after the formal training event is over.  

Flipping the long-adhered-to script of “informal learning supports formal learning” enables us to more easily make the transition to modern blended learning in the pursuit of performance improvement and perpetual learning

Want to learn more? Join me September 28-29 in Austin for ATD’s Core 4 Conference.

About the Author

Jennifer Hofmann, a pioneer in the field of virtual classrooms, is the president of InSync Training, a consulting firm that specializes in the design and delivery of virtual and blended learning. Featured in Forbes Most Powerful Women issue (June 16, 2014) as a New England Women Business Leader, she has led InSync Training to the Inc. 5000 as the tenth Fastest Growing Education Company in the U.S. (2013).

Hofmann is the author of The Synchronous Trainer’s Survival Guide: Facilitating Successful Live and Online Courses, Meetings and Events (Pfeiffer, 2003), Live and Online! Tips, Techniques, and Ready-To-Use Activities for the Virtual Classroom (Pfeiffer, 2004), and How To Design For The Live Online Classroom: Creating Great Interactive and Collaborative Training Using Web Conferencing (Brandon Hall, 2005). Additionally, she is a chapter contributor to The Handbook of Blended Learning (Pfeiffer, 2006), The AMA Handbook of E-Learning (The American Management Association, 2003), and The ASTD Handbook for Workplace Learning Professionals (ASTD, 2008, 2014). She has co-authored, with Nanette Miner, Tailored Learning: Designing the Blend That Fits (ASTD, 2009), a book focused on taking advantage of distributed technologies to create the best blended training solution possible.

Her most recent projects include a monthly Training Magazine Online series titled Virtually There and her newest book Body Language in the Bandwidth – How Facilitators, Producers, Designers, and Learners Connect, Collaborate & Succeed in the Virtual Classroom (2015).

Follow Jennifer Hofmann at her blog, Body Language In The Bandwidth at or on Twitter @InSyncJennifer.

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