Take a firm grip to encourage informal learning

New research suggests performance appraisals could bridge the gap between formal and informal learning.


Image: cc Hillary/Flickr

Most employees, from any profession or sector, will spend time talking about their job with friends, family and colleagues.

In most cases, if they are in the same job area with any consistency, they will pick up and read articles and books that relate to their profession, either casually in an ad-hoc way, or even in a more structured approach, with some self-improvement goals in mind.

All this is called informal learning, and while it clearly has the potential to have a positive impact on a person's performance in the workplace and their long-term career development, its formal role has never been fully acknowledged and has certainly never been rigorously measured or quantified.

Traditionally, the development of employee knowledge has been considered a top-down practice, where senior leaders determine the learning needs of employees and create and deliver structured development programs.​​

This is despite the acknowledgement that employees choosing to engage in informal learning tend to have high levels of confidence in their own ability and competence. 

"It has had a little bit of a negative definition, for no good reason really, but informal learning is everywhere and in so many things we do," says Karin Sanders, a professor and head of the School of Management​ at UNSW Business School.

"Even if you have a dinner, you are talking with your friends and that can be a part of informal learning. You hear something, you share knowledge and you are keeping up to date.

"Informal learning had a place in the development part of HR, but also it was not measured, and if you want to know more about it, and its impacts, then you need to measure it in a community of practice."

Read more at BusinessThink.