Langevin Blog

3 Ways to Incorporate Informal Learning in Your Organization

November 8th, 2012

Informal LearningYou may have heard the following statistic: people learn 70 to 80% of what they need to know to perform their jobs through informal means. While traditional classroom courses and e-learning programs aren’t likely to fade away, it is time to focus some of our efforts on that 70 to 80%.

Let’s take a look at a three-step strategy that can help you incorporate informal learning in your organization.

Step 1: You first need to have a clear understanding of the informal ways people learn. Surfing the internet, talking with co-workers, reading trade journals/newspapers, and watching people perform their tasks either live or through YouTube are all just a few informal ways that people learn their jobs. Once you have a clear understanding of informal learning, you can choose methods/strategies that will work for your company.

Step 2: Any initiative requires upper-management support, and encouraging informal learning is no exception. As training leaders, we need to “pull-out all the stops” by marketing/promoting informal learning. Talk to as many leaders as possible in your organization about the benefits of informal learning and the strategy you plan to implement. Hold lunch-and-learns, town hall meetings, and attend management meetings where you can communicate the values of informal learning. Encourage all levels of management to allow their employees time to share their knowledge. Don’t be too critical of people who are talking at the water cooler, for example, because it could be informal learning in action.

Step 3: Few new initiatives get incorporated successfully without some form of incentive. Incentives could be as simple as free donuts in a break room where people can meet and share, to gift cards, days off, or fun/friendly competitions for helping others perform better in their jobs. Be creative when creating incentive programs!

As training leaders, we need to embrace a new culture of learning in our organizations. Just remember to always stay positive and up-beat during the transition and be as visible as possible because you are politicking for an important cause.

How are you encouraging informal learning in your organization?

Langevin Team

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3 Responses to “3 Ways to Incorporate Informal Learning in Your Organization”

  1. Cynthia Beldner says:

    Fundamentally, L&D pros need to incorporate tasks into their roles and responsibilities that support informal learning. Informal learning is by definition happenstance and bottoms-up. You can’t coordinate it, but you can facilitate it.

    Help employees find information, resources, and experts. There’s a balance between self-service and full-service. Some things some people can do some of the time on their own. But there are always exceptions. Be there when those exceptions arise.

    Help make knowledge easier to find when people need it, and easier to share with peers. Curate good content. ESN’s make this task much easier. But an ESN isn’t the whole of it. Your organization needs good knowledge management, too.

    Knowledge management is not traditionally under the purview of L&D, but the two are inextricably linked. It’s okay if people don’t know a fact so long as they know where to find it when they need it. If your organization has made a mess of knowledge management, then it’s time to start ringing the alarm. Otherwise, your efforts at helping with informal learning will go no where fast.

  2. John Morley says:

    What then is value of formal classroom training? Especially for a new hire, or the launch of a new process or application. Is a high-level introduction and overview the essential 20 – 30% of learning that makes the informal learning possible? Or is it a waste of time that blows out the short term memory, leaving participants overwhelmed?

  3. This post provides a good overview for establishing a collaborative climate within an organization. We need to keep in mind is that we cannot always mandate every detail of that climate or see immediate results, which can be frustrating! The culture is the result of the things people are doing organically, and that takes time. So as L&D professionals, we can provide the tools, formal learning opportunities that complement informal/social initiatives, resources and outlets to share with one another, once we get folks on board (both at the end-user and leadership level), the magic happens when people begin (and continue) connecting. The more we encourage and keep at it, the more we begin to see the needle move.

    I believe there is definitely value in formal training; it is simply not the end-all-be-all of a learning program. We need to constantly remind ourselves (and others!) that “training” and “learning” are different. We can provide formal learning opportunities for employees to gain skills and knowledge, but at the end of the day, training is an event. Practical application of skills learned in training happens when the employee is back on the job, collaborating with peers, receiving coaching from a supervisor, etc. That culture of learning is everywhere, and it’s a process that is nurtured over time.

    Good topic – thanks, Ron!

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