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Formal vs. Informal Learning
November 8, 2010 @ 03:34 PM | By Nicole Scheel

Recently I was invited to take part in the 9th Annual Chicagoland Learning Leaders Conference that was hosted at Hamburger University at the McDonald’s headquarters.  Over 300 learning professionals from the Chicago area were there discussing learning and development, talent management, social media and so much more.  It was the type of conference that, when I left, I had a binder full of notes and ideas and a renewed excitement for my field. 

The panel of key note speakers was diverse, thought provoking and generated many new ideas.  The speakers and their topics included:

  • Building Tomorrow’s Workforce: The Inclusion Paradox (Andres Tapia, Aon Hewitt)
  • At McDonald’s: None of Us is as Good as All of Us – TRAINING IS KEY (Pat Harris, Diana Thomas & Charlie Strong, McDonald’s)
  • Using Social Media for Communicating with Generation Y'ers (Nancy Loo, WGN News)
  • How the Navy is Employing Technology to Train Generation Y Sailors (John Drake, Great Lakes)
  • Setting a New Standard: Walgreens Employees with Disabilities Achieving High Performance (Randy Lewis, Walgreens)

I could probably write pages and pages on what I took away from the conference—after all it was nine hours worth of amazing content. For now though, I’ll focus on one topic. 

Formal versus informal learning is a hot topic in the learning and development field right now.  As I’m sure with most training departments, my team is seeing a decline in our traditional classroom attendance.  Our employees want to be trained and want to take part in learning; however, other items (customers, appointments, call volumes, etc.) usually take precedence over attending a class.  We are passionate about making sure our employees still get trained, but now we are looking at other vehicles to get the message out. That’s where informal learning comes in. 

One of the sessions I took part in at the conference was on how to effectively blend formal and informal learning.  I don’t think that formal learning will ever go away, nor do I think it should.  I do think, though, that training departments need to start looking at ways to incorporate informal learning.  I really liked one of the definitions that was given during that session on what informal learning is: “knowledge gain that occurs without a structured curriculum.” 

My sales training team is an excellent example of blending formal versus informal learning. They formally conduct our new hire training and continuing education classes using a combination of audio conference calls and web conferencing.  From an informal learning perspective, they’ve started using things like Yammer to get quick messages out, Brainshark to record a quick 3–5 minute combined voice and PowerPoint learning topic, as well as using our Flip video camera to send out important announcements.  We’re also going to pilot using podcasting in conjunction with our weekly training call.  

I like the idea of using various forms of technology to get learning messages out there—the more the merrier!  How are you blending formal and informal learning?


Nicole Scheel is the Director of Training, and the “Tips & Training Blogger”. Nicole has been in training with InterCall for eleven years and currently manages our internal and customer training departments, also known as InterCall University. Nicole has her Masters in Training & Development from Roosevelt University. When she's not training someone, you can find Nicole volunteering in her community.

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