Formal training has always been the standard for workplace education. There are entire industries built around classroom-style training and continuing education events. But, these techniques don’t always suit the modern hybrid workforce. One of the best ways to approach training today is to encourage informal learning.

Informal Learning

What is Informal Learning?

To understand informal learning, consider that the definition of formal learning is “structured learning delivered through a program”. This could mean an online college course, an expert instructor giving a live presentation, or a training event where a speaker addresses a large audience. Formal learning is based on the need for a particular outcome, such as ensuring that all employees have the same information for a necessary safety standard.

On the other hand, informal learning is the idea that education can happen anywhere and at any time. You don’t need a structured program or event. Instead, anyone approaches their day with a sense of curiosity and a motivation to learn – and the education happens naturally from there.

This doesn’t mean that informal learning is an entirely hands-off approach. It does take thought to design an environment that encourages this type of education. But there are enormous benefits for learners and employers for embracing this.

With these benefits in mind, here are ten ways you can encourage informal learning in your office.

1. Start an Informal Learning Mentoring Program

If you have employees at many levels of knowledge or experience in the industry, why not pair them together for a mentoring program? You don’t have to set formal schedules and rules for this type of program to work. Instead, arrange for new employees to shadow seasoned team members once a month or quarterly and allow the informal learning to happen organically.

2. Offer Access to Professional Resources

There are many educational resources that become open to you as an organization that individuals may not have access to. Professional newsletters, forums, training materials, software, and tools can all be great resources for informal learning. Consider forwarding the latest industry news email you get each morning or allowing your employees access to a members-only forum filled with industry news. If they browse these resources, they’re sure to learn something every day, no matter how small.

3. Start an Informal Book Club

Even if there aren’t many industry-specific books your organization could dive into, try encouraging reading. Many books on soft skills, life skills, and mindsets can be life-changing for employees. Your book club can discuss what you’re reading in a company Slack channel or over lunch once a month. Choose books that address areas you want to see growth in your organization, and the informal learning will happen as you discuss your takeaways.

4. Bring in an Expert – But Not for Formal Training

Informal learning can still happen when you bring in speakers or trainers. Instead of hiring an instructor to go through a program, bring in a motivational speaker or an entertainer who knows something about your industry. Ask this person to host a conversation about a breaking topic or a specific skill and encourage your team to engage with questions.

5. Encourage Peer-to-Peer Instruction

One of the easiest ways to develop an informal learning atmosphere in your office is to encourage employees to share what they learn with their coworkers. If one employee recently gained a new skill through a project, ask them to show or tell others how to get started.

6. Allocate the Time for Informal Learning

Another great way to help develop this culture of learning is to give employees blocks of time to pursue their education. Consider a monthly hour that each employee can take to do whatever kind of learning they deem essential. They can spend that hour researching, taking an online course, seeking out a mentor’s feedback, reading, or any other kind of learning activity.

7. Encourage and Incentivize Volunteering

One way to quickly gain knowledge in an area is to volunteer as a helping hand. Sometimes this can lead to specific industry knowledge, such as volunteering at a training event in place of paying; other times, this can lead to a deeper understanding of a soft skill, such as learning good delegation during a charity meal for the community. Give your employees incentives, such as paid time off, to volunteer.

8. Make Informal Learning Social

Consider creating a regular schedule of social events for team members to share what they’ve learned recently. A monthly lunch or an online forum where you can ask questions about ongoing learning is a great place to start.

9. Company Bonding Events Can be Informal Learning, Too

When it’s possible, consider taking your team to bonding activities, like escape rooms or obstacle courses. These may seem cheesy, but employees can learn a lot about teamwork when facing these fun, low-pressure challenges.

10. Send Employees to a Networking Event

Finally, informal learning can happen at formal training or industry events – if you encourage the right behavior. Instead of focusing on what seminars your team will take, push them to network with other experts in the field. This will increase the casual knowledge sharing that is so important for informal learning.

Create an Informal Learning Culture

When employees are empowered to learn what interests and motivates them, productivity and workplace happiness only improve. By encouraging informal learning, you will create an organization that is known for its positivity and expertise. Beyond building a better brand, you will also see an improvement in employee retention and overall satisfaction.