Structured vs unstructured learning in the workplace

Ricardo Se Cestari

It is a fact that, for all well performing organizations, developing employees isn't just a HR problem anymore. It is an organization-wide strategic challenge directly tied to overall organizational performance and growth. However, the subject is so hard, convoluted and filled with deep change that most people find daunting just to start thinking about how to tackle it.


Let's take an example close to my heart: Customer Service. How would you develop your Customer Service Team to be among the top in the world? One that consistently promotes excellent service as well as lasting positive memories at every customer interaction? The basis for everything is the organizational culture. You have to properly define meaningful core values, hire people with those core values, consistently incentivize positive behaviour and set a way of measuring progress towards that objective. However these initiatives mean nothing if you don't train and constantly develop the team towards what you consider excellent customer service. They need to become experts in areas such as: how to properly listen to the customer, probing for the real problem behind complex situations, communicating in a very effective manner and with amazing rapport with each client, and easily navigating and leveraging your organization's systems and processes with the aim of creating the much sought-after positive outcome with a lasting memory for the client.

At our time and age, technology plays an important role in this. But how should you use technology to promote this deep important learning in as many people in the Customer Service Team (or any other part of your organization) as you can? Training Managers tend to gravitate between thinking in terms of instructor-led, face to face training versus online training. However, there are two larger aspects to consider before that: Structured versus Unstructured Learning. Structured learning happens in both face-to-face training and online training, and so as unstructured learning.

In structured learning, information is presented in a structured manner (live presentations, offline slides, videos, documents, books, etc.), learning activities are done as directed and assessments are applied to check if the employee has learned what has been intended to be learnt. This is the traditional approach.

Some people would argue that unstructured learning is more effective. These are the learn-on-the-job approaches and happen with the natural experiences and interactions the employee has. Examples for enabling more unstructured learning in an organization would be: to assign a peer coach or shadowing experiences, create knowledge bases and making it easy to search and access it when the need arises, job rotations, having an active online internal social network and instant messaging where everyone can help everyone, provide collaborative online spaces where information is presented as it is being developed; and actually doing the job, when employees enquire for knowledge with peers as the need arises (if the work environment is set as open and accepting).

So, the question now is:

How to take advantage of all what technology promotes in order to enable a better blend of structured and unstructured learning, and better overall training and development results?

  • Book Courses
  • Online Courses on Best Practices and Actual Application
  • Boost Course Completion on Social Networks

These are just 3 quick examples that allow for using technology to blend structured and unstructured learning in the work environment. Here at Go1, we are always thinking about the future of learning in the corporate environment and how to leverage technology to make it more effective and fruitful for both the organization and the individual. We are always internally experimenting with new ways of tackling these types of challenges. At the moment we have some very interesting internal projects (a secret for now), aimed exactly tackling and leveraging the merge of structured and unstructured learning. Keep tuned and check our blog in the future for news about it.

Happy learning!


Go1 helps millions of people in thousands of organizations engage in learning that is relevant, effective and inspiring.
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