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Majority of Workplace Learning Taking Place Outside of the Classroom

Ottawa, September 10, 2018—Informal learning has surpassed more formal activities to become the dominant method for workplace learning in Canada. More than three quarters (78 per cent) of respondents in a Conference Board of Canada survey indicated that they spend up to two hours per week on self-learning on the job.

This new report, Informal Learning: A Spotlight on Hidden Learning in the Canadian Workplace, finds 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.

“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, Organizational Performance, The Conference Board of Canada.


  • The majority (62 per cent) of learning in Canadian organizations is informal. Formal learning accounts for 38 per cent.
  • 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.
  • Seventy-eight per cent of survey respondents indicated they spend up to two hours per week on self-learning on the job.

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.

The report finds 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. In fact, 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.

This report is based on the responses from a random sample of 802 people from a national panel of employed Canadians between January and February 2017. The sample included a diverse group of organizations representing a robust cross-section of Canada industry sectors.

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