In adult education, informal learning, in contrast to formal curriculum-driven, instructor-led settings such as colleges and universities, suggests greater flexibility or self-directedness for learners. Informal learning is spontaneous, unstructured learning that happens daily in and outside the home.
Informal learning in the context of the workplace is the process of learning while on the job. It is learning that is acquired through interacting with colleagues, interacting with clientele and suppliers, and discovering new methods that assist in enhancing the performance of the learner. Informal learning is impulsive, unmethodical and even accidental at times. It is embedded in our everyday work activities.
Informal workplace learning involves on-the-job activities that are instituted by employees resulting in improvement of their professional knowledge and skills. Valuable informal workplace learning is taking place with regularity and great magnitude. Resulting in constructive information, processes and perspectives, informal workplace learning must be systemized to realize its value in enhancing or supporting organization-wide performance.
Although informal learning cannot be planned in the same manner as formal training, it can be encouraged, promoted, and supported. Mechanisms for transfer of informal workplace learning include written reports, oral presentations, site visits, tours, job rotation, coaching and mentoring, conferences, databases, intranets, work manuals, meetings, communities of practice, and performance support systems.
Self-directed, incidental, and socialization or tacit are three types of informal learning evident in the workplace, but despite its prevalence receives less attention because it is often thought of as an intangible form of learning. Most organizations look for learning to happen in formal training situations and overlook the learning that is taking place while individuals perform their daily work tasks.
In order for an organization to implement support of the informal learning exchanges of its employees, informal learning must be recognizable.