Informal learning is not a new concept.  However, the use of “informal learning” and video in the context of corporate development has emerged in the past five or so years.  One of the best similes to describe informal learning is as follows:

“Informal learning is like breathing.”

Informal learning is natural and intuitive to the point where people typically do not realize that it is happening.  It is naturally embedded in other tasks or environments.

Understanding Informal Learning

According to Charles Jennings, “[informal learning] is not a recipe but a reference model based on empirical research and experience.” The underlying framework behind informal learning can help create a work environment that is highly conducive to informal learning and production.  Professor Robert Kelley’s Informal Learning Blog published research that demonstrates a dramatic drop in the amount of information most employees need to know in order to complete routine tasks on the job.  At a very basic level, cashiers that work for major franchises no longer need to be able to calculate change by using mental math quickly.  Intuitive POS systems have made the skill almost obsolete.

In short, studies suggest that the role of informal learning is decreasing in the workplace.  And, it will likely continue to decrease.  Informal learning at its core may not matter in isolated contexts per se, such as advanced POS systems decreasing the chances that cashiers will use informal learning to improve basic mental math facts at a high rate of speed.  The more important part of informal learning is the overall framework in which it is used.  In many ways, this concept is simple in theory (have employees learn new skillsets without recognizing the process directly or interrupting normal production) but difficult in execution.

Three Informal Learning Contexts

Think about how employees could learn in three different forms of informal learning: social, on-demand, and embedded.   In a social context, informal learning about job-related skills will likely be combined with informal learning about items not related to the workplace.  In addition, gently promoting social influences among employees is a good way to teach skillsets that are not readily learned in a traditional setting, such as strong interpersonal skills when communicating with different personality types.

On-demand informal learning occurs in the workplace when an employee has to repeatedly remember an obscure code or how to complete a common task.  Employees will slowly remember lengthy numerical codes and other factual information when the information is repeatedly requested.  This form of informal learning involves large amounts of repetition.

Embedded learning is integrated into common tasks at work.  Using an unfamiliar email platform and learning new skill due to the nature of the platform is an example of embedded learning.  Employees learn new skills via mild adaptation to a familiar task (e.g. checking email).

Promotion of Informal Learning on Mobile Devices

Mobile devices can promote informal learning in a number of ways.  One of the most obvious frameworks in which mobile device usage could promote informal learning in the workplace would be the promotion of employee communication outside of work.  Employers can embed new tasks in platforms used for work to further encourage informal learning in the workplace.  Increase employee efficacy and satisfaction by using principles from the informal learning framework on mobile devices.

Image via UpsideLearning