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What is Formal Learning?

Formal learning is structured training that enables your team members to expand their knowledge, skills, and abilities. It often comes in an instructor-led course, workshop, seminar, or training session with clear objectives and goals.

This differs from informal learning, which is more spontaneous and organic. Your team members engage in informal training opportunities when they ask a colleague’s advice or read an article to help them solve a problem.

In other words, formal learning is workplace training provided to team members, while informal learning is a development opportunity your team members find on their own.

Your employees are your organization’s greatest asset. To attract and retain top talent and gain a competitive edge, it’s vital for your employees to continuously learn and improve. Identifying the best learning approach to upskill your employees is essential.

Discover the benefits of formal learning and how to use this approach to empower your team.

Formal learning delivery methods

Formal training has traditionally taken place in a classroom setting, but online training has been gaining popularity—especially in recent years. This expands how you can facilitate formal learning to meet your team’s unique needs, preferences, and learning styles.

Formal learning delivery methods include:

  • Online learning courses
  • Webinars
  • Videos
  • Virtual reality
  • College courses
  • Workshops
  • Seminars
  • Coaching
  • Tutorials

Read more: eLearning Content: 24 Types of Include in Training

Some of these delivery methods can be used both in-person and online. For example, you can present a seminar via classroom instruction or virtual instructor-led training. Videos can be used during a workshop or within an online training course.

Formal learning methods also pair nicely with informal training opportunities by building your team’s collective knowledge and enabling knowledge sharing between team members. 

For example, after a team member attends a seminar, they may share their learnings and insights with their colleagues. This may be done through a Slack chat, water cooler conversation, or formal mentoring. 

When to use formal learning

Informal and formal learning are each useful in different scenarios. 

Informal training comes in handy within a team member’s day-to-day work as they solve specific business problems and work with colleagues to overcome key challenges.

Internal knowledge sharing is an important source of continuous learning and professional growth.

Formal learning programs are more useful if your training has a definitive goal, a deadline, or needs to be measured. This includes new hire onboarding, upskilling and reskilling, and annual compliance training.

New hire onboarding 

New hires reach a 25 percent productivity rate in their first month on the job, 50 percent in their second month, and 75 percent in their third month, on average.

Formal training and onboarding can guide your team members as they acclimate to a new role, team, and company. This gives each team member a solid baseline to develop core competencies and get up to speed quickly.

Early learning objectives might include: 

  • Product knowledge
  • Skill development
  • Technology proficiency
  • Information security understanding
  • Workplace safety awareness

Effective onboarding doesn’t just increase your team’s competency—it can also improve new hire satisfaction and engagement. Seventy percent of employees who have an exceptional onboarding experience say they have “the best possible job.”

These employees are also 2.6x more likely to be extremely satisfied with their workplace—and more likely to stay. A formal new hire onboarding process is well worth the investment.

Upskilling and reskilling

Most of today’s jobs didn’t exist in 1940, and 85 percent of jobs that will exist 10 years from now don’t exist. It’s no surprise that 9 in 10 executives and managers report that their organizations either face a skills gap or expect one to develop within the next five years.

Using formal learning for upskilling and reskilling can help your organization, and team members adapt. Structured workplace learning helps employees develop skills to perform better in their current jobs and learn new skills to transition into future roles.

This goes beyond specialized job skills like advertising or web development and includes transferable soft skills such as analytical thinking and leadership.

A structured learning experience can also help you facilitate career growth. Career pathing and formal training enable your team members to identify and develop the skills they need to grow within your organization.

Some company leaders can be wary of investing in a formal learning process as it could lead to increased employee poaching from competitors—but that’s not generally the case. Career development conversations and encouraging employees to pursue internal opportunities increase the likelihood that they’ll feel engaged instead of needing a backfill by more than 2x. And 75 percent of employees who receive promotions will stay with the company for at least three years.

Compliance training

Workplace learning is mandatory within certain industries and occupations to ensure team members understand relevant laws and regulations—and how to comply with them. This may include data privacy and security training, workplace safety, or fraud detection. 

Compliance training is generally included in the employee onboarding process, though refresher training is often necessary. This will help ensure your team members stay up to date on regulatory changes and compliance practices.

Formal learning is crucial to ensure your workers receive the right information at the right time so your organization can reduce risk and liability. That’s not what you want to leave to chance through informal education. 

The right compliance training solution allows you to customize compliance training to meet your team’s needs. It will also automate your compliance workflow, track completion rates, and trigger reports to help you build a more efficient compliance program.

Level up your employee development program with formal learning

Formal learning is integral to any employee development program because it allows you to deliver targeted training. This ensures your team has the necessary skills, knowledge, and abilities to help your organization reach business goals now—and in the future.

Read more: How to Future-Proof Your Organization to Thrive in an Ever-Changing World

A cloud-based Learning Management System like WorkRamp can help you deliver an accessible, scalable, and affordable formal learning program to your team.

So, what are you waiting for? Schedule a free demo to see how WorkRamp can help you level up the learning experience at your organization. 

Complete the form for a custom demo.

Jen Dewar

Jen Dewar is a marketing consultant in HR technology, focusing on developing educational content for HR professionals and recruiters. She is passionate about diversity and inclusion, lifelong learning and development, and treating people like people throughout candidate and employee experiences. Outside of work, you can find Jen snowboarding in Tahoe, enjoying a glass of wine in Sonoma, or hanging out at home with her family.

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