Informal Learning – Bus or Bike?

Informal Learning - Bus or Bike?Formal learning is a bit like a bus. The learner gets on and the driver takes them on a journey from A to B. Informal learning is like a bike, the learner gets on and chooses where, when and how fast they make their journey.

Some people suggest that formal learning is dead and informal learning will take over but informal learning is not superior to formal. Both are equally valid. We simply need to plan solutions that are like both buses and bikes.

People with good ideas sometimes take them too far. Like Pareto who observed the  80:20 principle but went too far in suggesting that you lose 80% of your friends because they only bring 20% of the value! Informal and formal learning are both valid methods of learning but perhaps at different times and scenarios. We just need to find a way of using them both through our life of learning.

I learn daily, I love to learn, I often learn subconsciously like when I hear two colleagues disagreeing on something and somehow I store up understanding of ‘what to’ or perhaps ‘what not to’ say when I’m talking with those people in the future. We do an enormous amount of informal learning, all of the time. Yet when I consciously think about the biggest lessons I’ve learned recently and the changes that have come through them, they have come about through the formal learning cycle.

A significant example of this big change for me is caught up with a personal confession that may be incriminating so please don’t tell! I have been throughout my life a daily law breaker!! You see from my teenage years (having motorbikes on the local wasteland) I have loved speed. This resulted in a driving style that broke the speed limit almost every time I got in a car.
Sometimes deliberately sometimes through absent mindedness. Anyway, I kidded myself that I was a great driver especially
when I took up Motorsport and started to bring home occasional 3rd, 2nd and 1st place trophies.

Today I am pleased to tell you, I do not ever break the speed limit on the roads – no really, I have totally and majorly reformed my awareness and practice. I know the correct speed limit for any piece of road I am travelling on. I have strategies in place for maintaining legal speeds whether in town or on the open road. Remarkably, this life change took-place overnight about 18 months ago. I am still maintaining my new behaviours every day.

So what was the catalyst for this change? Was it my informal learning? Where driving is concerned there has certainly been lots of it over my lifetime. I love to drive and I like the skill of driving, I have paid attention to great driving and learnt many lessons especially on the track. I have sat next to ex touring car professionals and learned first hand how they loaded the springs a fraction of a second before a turn to ensure that the car is balanced and settled as they take a corner on the slippery limit of adhesion. I suspect there has been countless occasions where I have learnt how to drive better almost subconsciously through what I have witnessed and experienced. All of this is great informal learning but my biggest learning
and biggest change took place through an afternoons face to face speeding ticket training course – formal learning. Which of these learning approaches are most valuable? Surely they both are!


If someone tells you formal learning is dead then give them a reality check. Yes, informal learning works and us L&D professionals can help facilitate it much more but don’t let the bus tyres down yet because we all need the big crisis / wake up / game changing formal learning interventions too.

The truth is, we need a mixture of interventions in well structured and well designed blended programmes that maximise learning. Buses and bikes all the way.