Just about everything we do with technology has an informal learning component: downloading an app requires you to learn how to use it, interacting with a chatbot necessitates you to find out what questions are within the scope of the bot’s domain knowledge and accessing a website for the first time necessitates a quick orientation of where to go to accomplish your tasks.
If informal learning is so omnipresent in our daily lives, why is it that organizations are struggling to apply informal learning at work? The challenges are manifold. While informal learning allows learners the freedom to make organic discoveries, it provides less structure and is difficult to implement and optimize. Furthermore, there is a lack of knowledge and research in this area, particularly in measuring the impact of informal learning.
To address these challenges, here are four areas to consider when integrating informal learning into your corporate learning ecosystem:
Find a Good Blend
While informal learning is powerful and engages learners in their natural settings, formal learning has its applications. Formal learning is ideal for establishing a baseline of knowledge and skills, as well as enabling the delivery of compliance-based or standardized content that organizations have control over. Informal learning supplements and extends learning beyond the classroom by observing, exploring, asking questions, interacting with peers and experimenting. Finding a good blend between informal and formal learning is the ticket to creating a holistic learning culture.
To create and support a culture of continuous exploration, leverage a range of technologies that are already in place within your organization. Knowledge repository platforms, internal communication channels, enterprise social media tools, collaboration tools and performance support systems are some of the technologies that enable learners to self-direct their learning. For example, staff uses instant messages (IM) to communicate with each other and among teams. Why not take this opportunity to push learning nuggets via IM? Many technologies can be used as a learning technology without explicitly naming them as such. Try adding one or two of these into your training strategy. Then, observe and collect feedback on how people interact and explore.
Aim for the Low Hanging Fruit
Chances are informal learning already takes place in your organization. Your task is to identify where these activities are, what format they come in and how relevant they are to learning needs. For example, there is probably a repository of videos, internal wikis, corporate libraries and mentoring programs readily available. If not, there is a plethora of external content that one can access. Open educational resources (OER) and massive open online courses (MOOCs) are great, free resources for general skill training such as leadership, soft skills and tech-related topics. Open content can be used as a starting point in understanding topic areas. Simultaneously, adding organization-specific examples and learning goals relevant to your employees enables you to formalize the learning.
Set Goals and Metrics for Success
You want to ensure that you are gathering meaningful and actionable data for your informal learning effort. In order to do that, begin with the end in mind. What goals are you trying to achieve by implementing informal learning? Managers and learning professionals need to work together to establish which metrics matter the most in driving business outcomes. Execute pre- and post–assessments based on the agreed-upon metrics. Learning management systems (LMS) and other technologies typically have analytic functions that log content views, generate reports on activity, dissect discussion forum quality and track other informal learning usage.
Informal learning is a key component of any impactful corporate learning strategy because it gives the learner control over their learning and supplements formal training by providing a blended and holistic learning experience.