Synchronising Formal and Informal Learning in the Workplace to Enhance Professional Development

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Formal learning, which ranges from university courses to targeted training to perform a single task in the workplace, has typically provided the knowledge and qualification base for professional and skilled workers and could be described as a hierarchical, standardised, centrally controlled, vertically integrated approach to the transmission of knowledge through organised curriculum modules. The technological revolution of the late 20th Century has catapulted us into an unpredictable complex world that is fast paced, information rich, networked and horizontally integrated. The formal approach while useful may not fully equip adult learners or the organisations in which they work for such a dynamic competitive environment. Informal learning is more horizontally integrated, dynamic and occurs when people make a conscious effort to learn from their experiences and engage in individual or group reflection (Burns, 2002; Foley, 2004). The contention of this paper is that formal and informal learning have not been consistently or effectively linked and that the outcomes of professional development could be enhanced by such synchronisation. This paper, based on results from an interpretive study investigating professional development in large Australian organisations in 2007, explores adult learners’ experiences with formal and informal learning in the workplace. Semi-structured interviews and questionnaires, using mixed methods, were conducted with staff from all levels of three diverse organisations to investigate the relationship between adult learners’ professional development and organisations’ change agenda. Participants were asked to describe and evaluate their experiences with work related formal and informal learning. Results indicated that formal and informal learning played extensive but often isolated roles in professional and workforce development. This paper provides examples and argues that professional development could be enhanced through the overt strategic linking of formal and informal learning in the workplace.


Keywords: Formal and Informal Learning, Adult Learning, Professional Development, Workforce Development, Organisational Change
Stream: Curriculum and Pedagogy; Student Learning, Learner Experiences, Learner Diversity
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Synchronising Formal and Informal Learning in the Workplace to Enhance Professional Development,


Dr. Susan Bolt

Coordinator Teaching and Learning, Curtin Business School, Curtin University of Technology
Perth, Western Australia, Australia

Susan Bolt provides administrative, consultancy and professional learning services for divisional academic staff at Curtin Business School with the aim to improve teaching and learning. Currently she is investigating the relationship between adult learners’ professional development and organisations’ change agenda in diverse Australian organisations. Her previous work included management of system and district teacher professional development programs and research into pedagogical renewal through action learning.

Ref: L08P0119