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Managing Organizational Informal Learning

Few people attended a formal class to learn how to ride a bike, operate a coffee machine, or knit. An older sibling, parent, or another loved one put them on a bike, pushed, and shouted instructions as the bike hurdled forward. They likely watched someone operate a coffee machine and then tried to the same themselves. And, if they are like me, they jumped on YouTube to learn to knit. Concepts like these are learned independently out of need or interest.

People want to learn.

They may not want to sit in a classroom for hours or in front of anti-harassment video from the 1990’s, but they do want to learn on their own terms. 

Your employees are using YouTube, Google, books, podcasts, and learning from one another to increase their work performance. They are asking questions and finding the answers. As talent development professionals, we often overlook these activities and, by doing so, we fail to recognize our employees’ natural love for learning. 

We can foster this desire to learn by integrating informal learning activities into the learning ecosystem by encouraging autonomy, providing access to quality content, and by adding informal learning to formal learning activities. 

Encourage Autonomy

Organizations like Google have become famous for giving their employees the autonomy to create and learn independently. Google News, Gmail, and AdSense are just three of the many profitable products that were created by employees out of these autonomous activities. I am not suggesting that you give your employees the autonomy to create their own business lines but I am suggesting that you give your trustworthy and capable employees the freedom to engage in skill development activities that can improve their performance. Encourage the pursuit of independent learning through the channels that work best for the employee’s area of expertise and industry. Professional associations and conference attendance are two popular options.

Provide Access to Content

The amount of content available online can be both a benefit and a barrier to learning. It is easy to spend hours looking for a quality website or video that answers your specific question. You can reduce the time and stress involved in internet searches by encouraging the use of content on trusted websites like, or These reservoirs of content provide access to excellent learning materials with the option to curate content.

Mix Formal and Informal Learning Activities

Formal learning activities are core to most training strategies but they do not need to stand alone. You can reinforce formal learning with informal learning activities by encouraging employees to explore concepts in groups after the formal training ends. Consider providing optional, open-ended discussion questions to get the group started. Creating community around training concepts will help the ideas stay alive and grow. 

Integrating informal learning into your training strategy is not difficult. After all, employees want to learn. You can leverage this desire to learn by integrating informal learning into your current activities. Your employees will thank you.

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