What do we mean by non-formal learning?
We continue our tour of the contextual model with a look at non-formal learning. In a way we’ve already started, because both formal learning, which we reviewed in the last chapter, and non-formal learning are proactive approaches. Formal learning stands apart because it packages up the learning intervention in the guise of a ‘course’, with clearly established objectives, curriculum and assessment. In this chapter we look at the myriad of interventions which are much less formal, but still make a major contribution to learning and development in the workplace.
To refresh your memory, non-formal learning as we define it here is ‘learning to’ with a future perspective. It is not concerned with ‘learning from’ what we have done in the past, nor ‘learning to’ do something right now to address an immediate need. It occurs whenever we take deliberate steps to prepare ourselves for the tasks that we will be carrying out in the future or when others do this on our behalf. Some cynics label it ‘just-in-case’ learning, in contrast to learning that takes place ‘just-in-time’. Non-formal learning takes many shapes, but stops short of those interventions packaged up as formal courses.
The arguments for being proactive
Proactive approaches, formal or non-formal, are important because there are certain fundamental things we need to know and skills we need to have before we can make any serious attempt to function in our present jobs, or take on new responsibilities:
Induction and basic training: We are recruited as much as anything for the skills and knowledge we already possess, for our years of experience with other employers and for our qualifications. But every employer is different in terms of their culture, their particular policies and procedures, and the people that they employ. Even the most qualified new recruit requires some induction whereas, at the other end of the scale, many starters require weeks, months or even years of basic training.
Business change: Only rarely do jobs remain static – responsibilities change along with new strategies, processes and systems, creating new requirements for knowledge and skill.
Development: Looking ahead, organisations and employees themselves have an obvious interest in making preparations for employees to take on greater responsibilities.