Formal vs. Informal Learning in 3 Learning Contexts


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Informal Learning has its place. Formal Learning has its place. Each has their place within the 3 Learning Contexts that I wrote about earlier.

I just wish others who write about “the wonders and power of Informal Learning” were more clear about the Learning Context and specific “jobs” – “processes” – “workflows” – where THIS MAKES SENSE.

They usually don’t. I’m never sure after reading about Informal Learning about exactly where this has made sense. Using so-called Learning Tools from Web 2.0 as Performance Tools makes sense – but not calling them Learning Tools.

And I would wish them to be clearer about the existence of “guidance” about “what to learn” or not. And its source.

If there is no external guidance and it is only personal/internal guidance that drives this engine of Informal Learning – then I see little business sense in its embracement by Corporate Learning & Development organizations. Those would be for a different type of Learning Context – and not of interest to shareholders who are out to make a buck and not spend a buck where one can avoid it.

Those 3 Learning Contexts as I see them, are:

  • Personal Learning – for any personal interest or hobby – anything (in my definition – or is that iDefinition?) that does not lead to earning a living. From learning for the sake of learning for pure personal pleasure – to learning with very specific goals, such as learning to scuba dive.


  • Educational Learning – for learning within an educational institution for expanding knowledge to applying knowledge – and “to learn to earn” in current applications of knowledge. Includes both Formal and Informal Learning.


  • Enterprise Learning – for learning with a purpose and a return on the investment in mind – including general knowledge and skills, to very targeted performance capability development/ assurance.

Personal Learning

Which I define as “learning not for earning.”

Here Informal Learning makes greatest sense. But also Formal Learning (scuba diving) – risk and reward dependant.

Educational Learning
Here there is a mix (in my definition – my iDefinition) of needs for Informal Learning and Formal Learning. Sometimes the need is for learning for the sake of expanding knowledge and/or applying knowledge – and sometimes the need is “to learn to earn “about that knowledge.

Here is where both Informal Learning and Formal Learning make sense. But not always blended.

Enterprise Learning
Here the value of the risks and rewards compared to the value of the investment are made to determine worthiness of Learning in general. Here more Formal Learning may be appropriate and Informal Learning less so.

Where Informal Learning makes sense – use it. But that is less-so in an Enterprise Context – except for the very advanced learners/Performers. Those 15%-ers. That’s what research suggests is the % of people who can learn out of context and apply it to a different context. That means that 85% cannot learn out of context and then apply it.

Informal Learning may not provide the appropriate context – unless I tap into one of the Master Performers for help – and not hope to get lucky with the wisdom of the crowds. Unless the risks and rewards are insignificant to the learner/Performer.

And then why should an owner/shareholder care to invest?

Informal Learning makes greater sense in the Educational Context and Personal Learning Context to me. But not as much in an Enterprise Context.

How about you?

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5 comments on “Formal vs. Informal Learning in 3 Learning Contexts

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