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Recognising informal learning


Have you ever completed an e-learning or face-to-face course where some or all of the content was stuff you already knew? Maybe you’d already read about the topic on a website, discussed it with a colleague, learned it on the job or taken a similar course with a previous employer. Even when the content was new, have you ever thought that you could have learned the topic faster on your own?

Many learners in today’s workplace are skilled independent learners. In fact, most workplace learning happens informally (see Charles Jennings’ blog on the 70:20:10 framework). Equally, there are many learners who do need the structure and support of a formal course (Carliner, 2012, pp. 38-39).

One solution is to let learners test out doing all or part of a course. But what if there was a way to track and support the informal learning directly? With Tin Can, learners can record informal learning towards specified competencies, share these with one another and then use this as evidence to skip all, or part, of a course. Let’s look at how this would work.

1. Define competencies

The first step is to map out the skills, knowledge and abilities held and required by staff in your organisation. Many organisations already do this. With Tin Can, each competency is mapped to a Tin Can activity.

2. Track informal learning

The next step is to provide a mechanism for learners to record their informal learning. This can be a simple self reporting tool that lets learners say ‘I did this’.

3. Share and verify

Next, create a way for learners to share their learning records with colleagues. Allow managers and other authorised users to review and verify that the learning has taken place, either by assessing the learner or reviewing evidence the learner has submitted.

4. Integrate with formal learning

Finally, integrate with your formal learning experiences. Allow learners to skip parts of the learning that they have already completed informally.

This is just the beginning – the ‘carrot on the stick’ to get learners recording their informal learning. Once you’re collecting data on what competencies are required and who has them, you can target your learning and development initiatives intelligently at the gaps. You can also encourage more informal learning by identifying who knows what in your organisation and how they reached competency. You can then promote any resources and people that are commonly helpful for reaching a particular competency.

How might this benefit your organisation? We’re really interested to hear from you: email us at