Informal learning; what is it, what good is it and how do you stimulate it?

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Informal learning;  what is it, what good is it and how do you stimulate it?

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Every person has a different favorite way of learning and everyone has different personal development wishes. You probably too. It is therefore important that your learning offer matches the wishes and capabilities of your employees.

One person likes to absorb mountains of theoretical knowledge, the other wants to learn close to the work process, so that he or she can immediately apply what has been learned in practice.

And then of course we also have informal learning, for example by letting colleagues learn from each other (cross-training), holding knowledge sessions or by having employees swap positions for a short period (job rotation).

In this blog we zoom in on informal learning.

Informal learning versus formal learning

Formal learning is a way of learning in which you work systematically and in a structured way, within an environment that is actually designed for learning.

Formal learning is therefore deliberately planned to develop knowledge and skills. The goal is – usually – to obtain a recognized diploma or certificate.

formal learning

Traditionally, formal learning often takes place in a classroom with a group of fellow students. Nowadays this is of course also done digitally.

By informal learning we mean all learning that takes place without formal planning or instruction. According to a study commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior, informal learning is characterized by the acquisition of new insights through:

(a) the performance of daily tasks and the problems or questions this raises,

(b) the collaboration and interaction with colleagues,

(c) working with clients or stakeholders who present new requirements, questions and problems

(d) new and complex tasks that are presented.

Informal learning is therefore characterized by spontaneity and autonomy.

Why informal learning?

Informal learning is a form of learning that is better suited to the dynamic environment that an organization offers. Research shows that this learning form is more in line with the necessary knowledge and skills that you want to develop as a professional in a very logical and natural way.

The advantages

Informal learning is cost effective. You do not have to deal with travel and accommodation costs, and the employee can also combine learning with working. When learning in the workplace, the employee also acquires implicit knowledge: knowledge that you acquire through experience that you would most likely miss in a theoretical training.

Learning at the workplace fits in with the concept of the learning organization and finally, as an organization, by letting your people – also – learn in the workplace, you can move faster with the changing world.

What are the benefits of informal learning?

Although no concrete research has yet been conducted into the effectiveness of informal learning, researchers estimate this figure to be very high, up to eighty percent. Little research has yet been conducted into the benefits of informal learning.

>> Read our study here about what knowledge development actually delivers <

According to a study done by Maastricht University, the outcomes of informal learning vary considerably. The most frequently mentioned outcomes or consequences of informal learning according to this research are personally perceived career development, strengthening of the social network, improvement of skills, employability, reduction of emotional exhaustion and entrepreneurship.

Tips to stimulate informal learning

Despite the fact that no hard figures are available, we can safely say that stimulating informal learning – in addition to formal learning – is very worthwhile.

But how do you approach that stimulation?

  • Make your people aware of the importance of informal learning.
  • Give your people time and space to participate in informal learning activities.
  • Appreciate informal learning and incorporate the benefits into – for example – their personal development plan.
  • Make physical spaces or facilities available where colleagues and mentors can meet informally.
  • Build trust between colleagues. When there is an atmosphere of trust, it is easy to ask for help or feedback from each other.
  • Set the right example as a manager.
  • Stimulate diversity within your team in terms of (educational) background, age, gender and experience, but also offer a diverse range of tasks with sufficient challenge and variation. Consider a job rotation system.
  • Promote the image that learning is of all ages.
  • Make sure that people are willing and able to coach each other. This is very important, especially in the first period of a new job. Do use a coaching style that suits the learning needs of the employee.
  • Combine formal and informal learning for the best results.
  • Offer your employees the right tools to find the right knowledge within the organization. A good LMS makes it possible to create and store knowledge, so that it is also accessible to others.


The HR Consultant UK learning platform stimulates a learning culture through the 3C model. We distinguish three drivers: Culture, Capability and Commitment. Curious how our platform contributes to knowledge sharing? Or do you want to put continuous learning – higher – on the agenda, but could you use some help with that? Please feel free to contact us. We are happy to help you.



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