Informal learning within work processes

Prof. Dr. Dehnbostel recent published an interesting article in the elearning journal titled “Perspectives on vocational learning and eLearning: Informal learning within work processes”. The piece talks about the development of vocational training and the roles of formal and informal learning within its context.

Because the Soufflearning methodology integrates very well into the pictures he paints of the landscape of vocational training, the article will be summarized here in parts. It can be found in its entirety in German on this page.

The state of learning on the job

Research suggests that formal vocational training is stagnating and that consequently the goal of lifelong learning is not achieved. Especially among the youngest age bracket, participation in formal training is declining.

As a consequence, informal learning is becoming more and more important in the discourse of vocational training. Learning on the job is transforming into a keystone measure and, against the backdrop of recent societal and economic changes, has become a competitive advantage for businesses.

This is further amplified by the fact that formal learning processes prove to difficult to adapt to real-life work situations. It is therefore no wonder companies consider informal ways of learning more important than what takes place in courses and seminars outside of the working environment.

What exactly is informal learning?

The definition of informal learning is learning through experience, in the context of work and through immersion in work processes. Empirical studies show that 60-80% of an employee’s skills and knowledge derive from informal learning processes.

Informal learning is characterized by

  • being acquired through actions performed in the work or living environment
  • a lack of institutional organization
  • learning results through participation in work processes

Informal learning as opposed to formal learning leads to learning results without being consciously directed at their achievement. This type of knowledge acquisition consists of two parts: Experiential or reflexive learning and implicit learning.

Experiential learning is acquired through the sequence action – experience – reflection and the continual refinement of the acquired knowledge through consideration of prior experiences.

Implicit learning on the other hand is an unconscious process and goes unreflected by the learning person. The processes which lead to the ability to swim or ride a bike are two good examples.

Advantages and disadvantages of informal learning

The advantage of informal learning is clear: Subjects learn exactly what is necessary, there is almost no problem with knowledge transfer to their work place. Motivation and willingness to learn are high because the purpose is clear and the learned material immediately applicable.

On the other hand problems and disadvantages of informal learning are evident: Dependence on respective work processes, randomness of acquired knowledge, and a narrow learning corridor limited by the company’s operations.

Informal learning without accompanying measurements, organization and goal orientation therefore runs the danger of staying situational and arbitrary.

Proposal for a synthetic approach

Learning concepts in modern corporations like coaching, quality circles, learning islands, and other such concepts stand out through their use of informal learning with complementary formal learning processes.

The new learning concepts all have in common their enhancement of working processes through systematical and educational perspectives. They represent efforts to consciously fabricate a working environment in which learning is supported, required, and encouraged through organizational, methodological, and personnel-related measures.

Through this kind of integrated learning the active acquisition of work-related competencies is being actively pushed. It is being turned into an integrated, subject-oriented, and in some cases accompanied learning process. This way the development of competencies does not run the danger of staying random and situational.

These forms of learning are characterized by a double infrastructure: The learning environment matches the real work situation in terms of duties, organization, and demands for qualification, while offering additional resources in the form of space, time, material, and staff. Learning is fully integrated into the work process and no longer limited to informal learning.

Soufflearning – where informal meets formal training

Soufflearning was specifically developed to address the fact that most learning on the job happens in the workplace while employees perform everyday duties. Through accompaniment by qualified trainers in their work environment, Soufflearning can provide targeted support for the informal learning process.

The method can thereby facilitate and accelerate training outcomes specifically aimed at the needs of both the employee and the employer, thereby taking the element of random knowledge acquisition out of the equation.

If you would like to know more about the method and available training or would like to get in touch with the project, please do so via the contact information on this page.

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