According to Training in America by Garnevale, Gainer, and Villet (1990), two out of three workers say that everything they need to know was learned on the job, rather than through the classrooms. Thus the workplace is the most frequently traveled avenue to education and training for most employed persons. The authors further go on to state that estimates of employer investments in workplace training hover around $210 billion annually. Of that, about $30 billion is spent on formal training, while the rest, $180 billion is spent on informal, or on-the-job training.
The estimates that I have seen for informal vs. formal learning in a work environment normally runs about 70 to 80 percent for informal learning. Thus I estimate that on the average, workers learn 75% of their job informally and 25% formally. This means informal/on-the-job learning gets 86% of all learning investments, which leaves 14% for formal learning programs. Note that the authors indicate that formal learning is designed, developed, and delivered training; while informal/on-the-job training may be structured, such as apprenticeship programs, or unstructured, such as coaching or showing another the best way to perform a task.
I see two interesting aspects of this. This is the first time I have a seen training investment cost that tried to show the estimates for both formal and informal learning, however, the authors might have had more resources than others as this study was underwritten by the U.S. Department of Labour and conducted by ASTD. Of course it did include on-the-job training in informal learning, but on the other hand, is this where it should be included?
Secondly, as Jay and others bring the auspice of informal learning to the attention of trainers, it seems to me that trainers will try to formalize even more informal learning. As this shift grows from formalizing the informal, will we see the percentage of investment in formal learning programs grow and the investment of informal learning shrink?