Workplace learning in Canada increasingly informal: report

Employers need to be aware of cost, lack of curriculum and role supervisors play in learning, says Conference Board of Canada

Mario Toneguzzi: Workplace learning in Canada increasingly informalA new report released on Monday by the Conference Board of Canada finds that the majority of workplace learning is taking place outside of the classroom.

The report, Informal Learning: A Spotlight on Hidden Learning in the Canadian Workplace, found that 78 per cent of respondents to a survey said they spend up to two hours per week on self-learning on the job.

It also found that 62 per cent of learning activity in Canadian organizations is informal, compared to only 38 per cent for formal learning; This is a marked increase from 2004, when only 12 per cent of learning taking place in organizations was through informal activities and formal learning made up 88 per cent, said the board.

“There is a growing disconnect as the majority of learning opportunities provided by Canadian organizations are formal, yet the majority of meaningful learning that is actually occurring according to employees is informal,” said Colin Hall, associate director of Organizational Performance at the Conference Board, in a statement.

The report also found that more than 80 per cent of employers believe that direct supervisors and managers are supportive of informal learning, while only 36 per cent of learners feel this is the case.

“Informal learning is learning that takes place without a curriculum. Employees establish their own objectives and determine for themselves when they have completed them. Examples of informal learning can include activities such as asking co-workers for help or seeking out expert knowledge on the Internet,” said the board.

The report also found that only 45 per cent of respondents reported that their organizations provide a “bare minimum” to “basic learning opportunities” needed to support them in their job performance.

“With the majority of workplace learning now happening informally, employers should be giving it far more attention. If employees are spending their time at work learning, there is a salary cost associated with that time. While employers traditionally track the expenses related to formal learning, the cost related to time spent on informal learning is likely to be considerably larger,” said the board.

Mario Toneguzzi is a veteran Calgary-based journalist who worked for 35 years for the Calgary Herald, including 12 years as a senior business writer.


Workplace learning in Canada increasingly informal

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