What’s All This Talk About Informal Learning?

by Claire Schooley.

After we leave formal education settings, 80% of our learning is of the informal kind; yet only 20% of corporate education dollars are spent on what is most important to us as employees.  Why are corporations spending 80% of their employee education dollars on that modest 20% of the learning we do?

So, what is informal learning? It’s that unplanned discussion with a colleague over an issue you don’t understand and glimpsing a new perspective on how to deal with an issue that has arisen. It’s sending an IM to a remote colleague to get information on how the company is implementing a procedure, and then setting up a 10-minute phone discussion to go deeper. It’s bouncing ideas for a new project off a colleague, then asking her to question your perspectives—like a kind of informal coach. These sound like things we do every day, right? Some corporate cultures actively encourage and support these informal ways of learning through trust, technology—IM, Expert Location, or good intranet search capability—and a supportive culture, while others frown on “taking time away from work” to talk to colleagues.

So what should we employees do? We should view corporate learning as performance improvement, rather than a matter of how many courses we have completed or what grades we received on the tests. We must take responsibility for learning what we need to know. What do we need to know to get our jobs done? We should be able to tap those short content-pieces—yes, those single-concept, 5-minute learning-nuggets, easily accessible through a word search covering learning catalogs and other intranet documents. Scheduled learning and culture sessions can also provide help in learning how to use the tools effectively and understanding that everyone in the organization has a responsibility to make the company successful through assisting others in informal ways.

Can informal learning be tracked by LMSes? Yes, courses on culture, productivity ideas, technology can be tracked, along with compliance-mandated learning. But the “tracking” of informal learning comes through performance assessment which is becoming an important part of the Human Capital Management (HCM) to develop and maintain a competitive workforce.

Is informal learning happening in your organization? If so, let me hear from you. What initiatives are employees taking? What road blocks are popping up? What’s working well? What’s not?

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