After years of formal learning that’s been scheduled, tracked and conventionally recognized, learning and development professionals and HR teams are now being tasked with doing the same with informal learning.

Informal and experiential learning are an important part of employee development. In fact, in a 2016 Brandon Hall Group study, 50 percent of respondents said that on-the-job training, learning by doing and learning through observation are critical to business. Informal, ad hoc learning, typically through peer-to-peer collaboration and social networking, was deemed just as important as traditional instructor-led development.

The challenge lies in validating, measuring and formally recognizing informal and experiential learning. With this style of development, there typically aren’t boxes to check or certificates to give out. Here are three ways L&D professionals can help people throughout their organization recognize and measure informal learning.

1. Motivate With Feedback and Coaching.

Today’s workforce is used to the constant inflow of information and is driven to put it to use. That said, employees still need — and want — to receive guidance from their managers and the L&D team on development opportunities, especially if they are informal.

One way to provide these opportunities is feedback and coaching. In a PWC survey, nearly 60 percent of respondents said they would like feedback on a daily or weekly basis. That number increased to 72 percent for people under the age of 30.

During one-on-one conversations, managers should discuss informal learning and future opportunities for their employees. These conversations are a great time to verbally recognize and formally record the type of learning employees have been participating in. They also give employees the satisfaction of being validated for their work and L&D professionals an idea of what type of education and development people are looking for or taking on already.

2. Recognize Through Sharing and Collaboration.

Think about the last time you were recognized for something you accomplished. It felt good, right? It probably also made you want to do even better the next time. The same goes for learning. Using one-on-one sessions to recognize the initiative employees take regarding their development is critical. Creating ways for them to share ideas and receive peer recognition is healthy for the organization, as well.

When people can share what they have learned with team members, either in person or through collaborative tools, it helps information retention and comprehension. Additionally, peer recognition is often seen as more genuine and empowering.

For example, with collaboration tools, you might be able to see that in one month, Jill in accounting shared three different articles on a specific topic, commented on 10 posts and sparked four meaningful discussions. Insights like these data give managers and HR an idea of how much development employees are doing on their own, how engaged in it they are and, most importantly, how they’re applying it to their work.

3. Measure Through Benchmarks.

When it comes to measuring informal or experiential learning, benchmarking can give you the results you need. The ultimate goal of workplace learning is for people to develop skills and acquire knowledge and understanding so they can perform better at their jobs (or in future positions).

Managers need to set benchmark goals that are specific and measurable to the job function. They can set these goals by sitting down with an employee and discussing their performance and productivity and working together to determine what success looks like.

To create an accurate picture, these assessments need to happen before and after training. Rather than taking a “pass or fail” approach, look at what behaviors the training impacted. Is it easier for an employee to do a certain aspect of their job? Have they streamlined a process? Can they serve customers more effectively? Measurement needs to match the job function or role in order for managers to understand how someone’s performance has improved based on what they have learned.

It’s clear that there’s been shift from traditional learning to a more open-source style that recognizes different types and forms of learning. Organizations that embrace informal learning and develop strategies that recognize and measure it will be the ones who keep their high performers, engage their workforce, and create an environment where people are constantly motivated to bring their best to what they do and the people they work with.

Want to learn more? Our Midwinter Month of Measurement is leading up to our next virtual conference, TICE Virtual Conference: Metrics Matter, a Focus on Strategic Planning, Analytics and Alignment. Learn more and register for the free event here.