Formal and Informal Learning: Why a balance between the two is required in a workplace?

Learning, as we all know, is part of life. The workplace is considered a legitimate environment for learning new skills and gaining knowledge that enhances an employee’s morale and encourages their participation in work-related activities. One can even say that work and learning are synonymous as when employees invest time in work activities their experiences accumulate. They get a better understanding of their role in the organization and its importance. In today’s fast-moving corporate environment, learning new skills and honing pre-existing capabilities is essential, and without the right tools, an employee may fall behind. 

Corporate employees must continuously modify and update their working habits to sustain competitive advantage, remain employable and perform well. To help employees establish themselves better in the work environment and boost performance, companies come up with various opportunities and provide learning platforms. Through these opportunities, employees integrate the skills and qualities that are required for the particular line of work, which in turn, help them achieve their individual goals as well as the collective goal of their work faster and more efficiently. Another advantage of learning new skills at the workplace is that it makes it easier for employees to manage change, perform well and bring work satisfaction.

Types of learning

An archer is doomed to fail without the appropriate amount of arrows in their quiver. Just like that, if an employee doesn’t keep on learning and picking up new skills in the workplace, he gets further and further away from realizing their professional goals and might get frustrated with their job. The importance of learning is gradually increasing in a highly global and interconnected world. 

Hence, there is a need to push individuals to continue to learn to increase productivity and upgrade their employability skills. However, everyone has a different style and pace of learning. Therefore, to provide our employees with the best possible options, we must first evaluate different types of learning styles. 

The ones that make the top of the list are as follows:

Formal Learning in the Workplace

Formal learning is presentational education. It encompasses a structured model that presents a rigid curriculum, corresponding to laws and norms. It is done by a training-based organization and/or workplace, via mobile devices, classrooms, internet courses, and e-learning portals. It is explicitly designed as education regarding time, objectives and resources. 

Learning outcomes are determined by assessments and tests. Since formal learning follows a structure and therefore allows learners to track and measure their progress. It also allows learners and training organizations to understand whether or not they are meeting training goals. 

Examples of formal learning include face-to-face classroom lectures, e-learning courses, workshops, seminars and webinars. Formal learning is used when there is a need to have control over the learning experience of learners, as learners follow a planned and rigid curriculum. 

There are matters in the workplace that needs to be learnt in a proper and standard format, like compliance training, or mandatory training periods for navigating through the new company software.

Advantages of Formal Learning

  1. Visible and measurable improvement in employee performance.
  2. Formal training helps establish a baseline of knowledge and skills because everyone is receiving an equal amount of structured training and gaining the knowledge they need.
  3. It is easier to keep a track of skills and knowledge gained through formal learning set-ups. An organized record of what training is provided, by whom, and the results achieved can be maintained.
  4. Formal learning involves face-to-face interactions, where learners are provided with opportunities to bring forth their issues and doubts in a classroom-like setting, hence helping greatly to nullify any sort of personal apprehensions by employees involved.
  5. Formal learning opportunities can also be made available through an online medium where employee training software can be implemented. This way companies can make sure their employees get the required training no matter the time and distance. 

Disadvantages of Formal Learning

  1. It is costly and rigid.
  2. An unprofessional and non-standard training system may cause a waste of time and money and leave all parties involved unsatisfied with the outcome.
  3. Some employees might not be so keen on gaining knowledge through such a medium. As such, undisciplined employees who are made to attend such sessions out of necessity may intentionally or unintentionally spoil the mood of everyone involved and cause unnecessary issues for trainers.
  4. From a psychological point of view, employees might get nostalgic whiplashes of their time in schools and colleges. This might be a double-edged sword. While some employees might like the experience of remembering their good old days, for others it might be uncomfortable. Especially if they had a bunch of bad experiences in their education life.  

Informal Learning in the Workplace

Informal learning goes on outside of a traditional formal learning environment. It is all about acquiring skills, attitudes, and knowledge through daily interactions at work, play and media influences. This learning platform encompasses a range of activities like during internship or on-job-trainings.

Additionally, informal learning goes on in our daily life. They are intentional and often easy learning projects undertaken by us to teach ourselves. It often helps to enhance our skills and broadens the horizon of our pre-existing knowledge. Informal learning occurs whenever people have the need, motivation or opportunity for learning.

Advantages of Informal Learning

  1. It is spontaneous and can happen any time the learner sees something that piques their curiosity or will add value to their job.
  2. Informal learning allows employees to satisfy their curiosity. It helps them to improve their existing knowledge, pick up new techniques, or hone an existing skill.
  3. It reflects an employee’s willingness to learn and dedication to their professional goals. An employee who invests time and energy in informal learning is typically an individual who is goal-oriented and is always on the lookout to explore, experiment, and learn.
  4. It is relatively cheaper as informal learning need not happen from structured content alone. It can happen any time during the day including interactions with colleagues, seniors, or coaches.
  5. The learning experience is more fulfilling for the employees as adult learners want autonomy and control. With informal learning, employees are in full control of what they are exploring and learning.
  6. Learning can begin without any significant plan since nowadays almost everybody has access to so much information online that can be used to continuously acquire information.
  7. Employees find it easier to dive into and sustain the momentum with informal learning as there is no pressure of having to attend training sessions, clear a test, get a decent score, and perform in a classroom-like setting that often gives one nostalgic whiplash of their time in schools and colleges.

Disadvantages of Informal Learning

  1. One major issue with informal training is a greater potential for oversight or errors. This may lead to an employee being put into a situation with a client or customer or projects that they are unprepared for, which in turn can have negative consequences on business relationships and employee morale.
  2. Employees will likely have more questions with informal training because they recognize gaps in the training and want to feel comfortable in their ability to do their jobs effectively. Seniors and managers, being busy with their duties, may not be able to help as much as they want. As such, an employee is bound to screw up the first few times. This lack of desired results due to inefficiency in the field will be greatly demotivating.
  3. Consistent informal training can contribute to a negative work culture and low employee morale as employees will feel as though the organisation has no interest in their growth and performance and/or lacks resources to provide proper training.   

Points to keep in mind while engaging in different types of Learning Methods

Learning occurs as part of everyday experiences and participation. The importance of constantly picking up new skills and learning different methods of getting the job done for an employee in the organization is nothing new. That being said, when it comes to initiatives taken by the firm itself one must keep in mind the different types of learning methods and their advantages and disadvantages. 

  1. First and foremost is to recognize that corporate learning and development focus on facilitating change to improve employee job performance. As such, both formal and informal learning should complement each other to support learning and maximise effectiveness.

  2. Secondly, both formal and informal learning patterns offer different values in the lives of learners. The choice between the two comes down to the objectives and intent of the learners.

  3. Third, learning involves both action and reflection. It means looking back on what we have done, measuring it against what we wanted to achieve, and assessing the consequences. Therefore it is vital to recognize and identify informal learning experiences in the workplace as much as emphasizing formal learning and creating the required environment.

  4. Fourth, it is important to keep in mind that every training activity – may it be formal, informal or a blend of both – must be in support of the goals of the organization. These learning opportunities must do more than just entertain the employees.

Need for balance between formal and informal learning

The blended approach to learning allows allowing employees to feel comfortable in their workplace. It should also be recognized that corporate learning and development focus on facilitating change to improve employee job performance. Hence, certain criteria are required to be integrated as the primary aim before designing training content and choosing a suitable method.

Formal learning plays an integral part in nurturing the performance support network in any organisation. As such, informal learning must act as an additional layer of support to improve performance. Opportunities for both must be provided and highlighted by the companies. Employees must have the choice to learn new skills and integrate them into their working habits in a safe environment first so as not to lose confidence when they are thrown directly to the sharks. 

Corporate training has to engage employees with interesting and useful training content and design. At the same time, adding everyday learning aspects allows employees to practice securely and more precisely. They absorb information and then try and fail under supervision. This eliminates the fear of major screw-ups.


Author Bio:

Name: Shalinee Banerjee

A 27-year-old writer from the small town of Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh, India, pursuing Masters in Arts (English Literature) and has a passion for storytelling. Currently working on honing my skills as a novel writer and working on my first book, the title undisclosed at the moment. Loves reading and gaining knowledge and developing content based on my unique perspective of all the latest happenings around the



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