What is Formal Learning and How Does it Impact Businesses? Emma O'Neill Published on June 27, 2019 When we chat to organizations today and ask about their goals, we repeatedly get one answer - they want to create formal learning. But what does this mean for a business? Formal learning is likely what you envisage learning to be in the traditional sense. Organized, systematic, and goal-driven; it’s a practice that’s become increasingly popular for organizations to do. And it’s obvious to see why. Formal learning has countless benefits for your employees and your organization by and large. Let’s jump in and explain what formal training is, its benefits, and what formal learning opportunities there are for your workplace. What is formal learning? The Definition Formal learning is the name given to training that is structured and takes place within a planned setting, like a classroom or online. It has clear objectives and goals that are defined by an instructor or trainer. What do formal learning experiences look like? There are a few characteristics that define the formal learning experience. Significantly, the learner is instructed in what they have to learn, and the goals of their courses will be clearly established by an instructor. It’s how we learned in school and university. You take a class; the curriculum is designed before hand; and a test or assignment is done to prove you’ve reached the end goal. Traditionally synchronous, formal learning usually had all the participants gathered together and learning at the same time. But, with the rise of online training, this is no longer the norm. Learners can now log into employee training software and learn when and where they wish. However, as it still has clear objectives, it’s not one hundred percent self-driven, therefore differentiating it from informal learning. What is formal learning in the workplace? Creating formal employee training programs is a growing movement for organizations. Once seen as a “nice to do” activity, it’s become a must-have strategy with businesses developing training teams and focusing on building a learning culture. And, if we look at the benefits, it’s not difficult to see why. Benefits of formal training 1. It improves employee performance There are a plethora of benefits that come with formalizing employee training, but one of the most impactful is its effect on employee performance. Having a formal learning program helps establish goals, offers best practice advice, and gives your employees the tools they need to exceed in their role. 2. It structures knowledge share Within most organizations, each employee needs a baseline of knowledge to effectively perform their role. And every team member needs to have the same training to ensure everyone is on the same page. Formal training helps you easily establish this baseline as everyone is receiving an equal amount of structured training and gaining the knowledge they need. 3. It measures the training taking place When it comes to other types of learning, informal or impromptu, there is one big issue. They are difficult to track. Learning could be happening, but it’s a lot of effort to figure out the when, where, and what. Formal training makes it so much simpler. You can record what training is done, by whom, and the results they achieved. Importantly, you can also measure the impact that training has over a period of time so you know it’s ROI. Formal learning opportunities in the workplace In the past decade or so, formal learning within businesses has revolutionized. Not only has the number of organization’s building formal training courses expanded, but the avenues and types of formal training has expanded. Handily, these advances also mean it’s much easier and efficient to roll out too. 1. Face-to-face There are two main areas of training involved in formal learning. The first and most conventional way to educate employees is face-to-face. Popular in the past, and still done today as it's sometimes necessary, face-to-face training is also known as classroom training. There are a number of different ways to train face-to-face including coaching, on-the-job learning, tutorials, group talks, seminars… the list goes on. Within a business, this training usually occurs once or twice a quarter or whenever a new hire joins. Your employees are gathered together, perhaps even having to travel, and are trained over a certain period of time. Although still commonplace for businesses, it’s got its drawbacks. Employees have to take time off work, it’s inefficient, and often costly. 2. Online training Superseding face-to-face in many organizations is online training. Primarily done with employee training software, like a learning management system, it enables your business to manage, deliver, and track training online. The reason why this method has exploded in popularity over the last few years is that it tackles many of the issues that arise with face-to-face learning. Your employees don’t have to take time off to attend training as they can simply log into the LMS and learn when it’s convenient for them. You can educate employees no matter where they are as it’s all online, thus saving time and resources. Online training comes in many forms, with LMS courses, webinars, ILTs, podcasts, videos, and even virtual reality all having a role. Of course it’s up to your business to decide which training methods work best based on the goals you have for your training. Be it formal training online, informal, self-directed learning, or a blended learning model with a mix of everything, as long as you’ve planned your training strategy you’re on the right path to success.