Informal Learning in Organisations

During the Christmas break I read Robin Hoyle’s Informal Learning in Organizations. Informal and social learning has taken place since the dawn of time. Humans naturally learn informally, as Robin explains, our prehistoric ancestors didn’t learn how to hunt and gather in a classroom, they watched what others did. Now a days we understand learning theory’s and models  with so many available is it possible that we are over complicating learning?

We are all able to find information and can use it in the best way to help us achieve our goals. However, it isn’t enough to just ‘google it’, for learning to take place we need to experience, reflect and repeat.

The big question is how do L&D professionals support this skill in the workplace and ensure that learners are looking for information which supports the organisational objective?

This book discusses organisational culture on many occasions, as the correct environment will support informal learning. Learners need to take responsibility for updating their skills and knowledge and organisations should encourage learning through collaboration and opportunities to try new things. This does not happen naturally, an informal learning approach needs to be structured, resources need to be made available and individuals who use and share these should be rewarded. If these are not present it doesn’t mean that informal learning will not take place at all – there maybe a team or a few individuals who work this way as they are keen to improve personally and professionally.

One section of the book which really resonated with me is Chapter 4, Formal Training and the Budget Paradox.

If the medium we use to develop managers is a formal training course, guess what message they infer from that.

If all managers leave the workplace to learn, they will assume that all learning should take place this way. Robin goes on to discuss subject matter expects; they don’t have a training background but are often the people who decide on the best training solution for that topic. If their experience of learning is formal classroom training, which method will they deem most suitable? This is something I often see within the organisation I work for and am in the process of getting the L&D team involved as soon as possible to influence these decisions.

Technology and social media is discussed and the seek-sense-share framework is introduced.  With so much information available it is likely that individuals will connect with likeminded people, therefore different opinions, experiences and preferences become limited. Learners need to manage connections and communities to ensure that they have access to a diverse range of information and views.

Informal learning can be more difficult to design and manage and The Informal Learning Action Plan, Chapter 14, is very helpful. Practical ways to manage and report on informal learning are suggested throughout this book and case studies are provided frequently.

After reading this I have reviewed how I learn informally and am encouraged to look at ways I can promote this approach within my organisation, even if it is my small corner of the regional L&D team.


The views and opinions expressed in the resources shared are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views do not necessarily reflect those of Focus N Develop.

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