Synchronising Formal and Informal Learning in the Workplace to Enhance Professional Development
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
Dr. Susan Bolt
Coordinator Teaching and Learning, Curtin Business School, Curtin University of Technology