Informal learning is, by nature, elusive and difficult to measure. The training industry attempts to divide learning into the 70:20:10 model, leaving 10 percent formal training, 20 percent learning from others, and 70 percent on the job, or informal, training. But no one can actually guess how much informal training is ideal. In fact, it may be wiser to acknowledge that formal and informal learning methods are incredibly intertwined and occasionally difficult to distinguish.
In order to support their informal learning, workers need the appropriate resources. Trista Kimber, Director of Training and Design at Hooters Restaurants, states that they filled their LMS with videos of everything from “How to Slice a Tomato” to “How to Clean a Grill” to take advantage of human inclination to search the internet for answers. It’s become a popular resource for their locations.
Even though it’s a formally provided resource, it’s used very informally, with employees being able to take advantage of just-in-time training needs. They can look up how to slice a tomato right before slicing a tomato. This line between informal and formal learning makes informal learning hard to define.
For the purposes of this article, we can call informal learning:
- Learning that exists outside of a traditional in-person or e-learning course,
- With self-directed objectives,
- Accessed by a self-chosen method of learning.
So, in this case, the Hooters’ casual content library works under that definition. But if a person decided to take a full e-learning course on slicing methods and vegetable-cuttery techniques, that would be considered formal training.
How do you implement policies and resources that will create a program as successful as Hooters’ for your company?
Make the Appropriate Resources Available
Learners will quickly get frustrated if there are no resources, or the resources are low quality. This means they may go outside company-approved information, making employee working methods more inconsistent, or even dangerous.
To foster interest in the informal learning opportunities:
- Provide high quality, relevant resources. It helps if you do your research to find common points of learning interest among employees.
- Teach employees how to find what they need. If they don’t know how to effectively search for it, it won’t get used. Related: make sure your content delivery system has effective search and organization functions.
- Give learners a place to ask questions. Community forums or other social learning within a learning system can be a boost for allowing learners to clear up any misunderstandings, and not be lost down a self-directed learning rabbit hole.
Develop Social Learning Spaces
Research consistently shows that “being involved in a group helps collaborators develop meta-knowledge and facilitates their ability to collaborate and coordinate.” This happens all the time in the workplace as employees swap tips they’ve learned or share anecdotes about customer service horror stories. But developing social learning spaces within an LMS can provide an opportunity for that meta-knowledge to swap between workers in different locations, and to spread that knowledge wider and more efficiently.
Maintain Skills Profiles for Key Job Categories
How do employees know what learning they need to pursue if they don’t know what skills they need to move up?
Maintaining readily available skills profiles allows employees to make specific goals, encouraging them to seek out knowledge to obtain those goals.
It’s easy to overlook that someone in an entry-level role may be overwhelmed and confused on what they need to do to move up or what skills are useful in their industry. Random word-of-mouth knowledge can be conflicting and unhelpful. Providing skills profiles clears that confusion up and empowers employees.
Ask Higher-Ups to Get Engaged
If managers and executives acknowledge informal learning resources, it’s more likely that they will make use of it. Have managers direct employees to online databases of knowledge to answer questions before returning to the manager for coaching and further guidance.
Executives who talk about the resources, and perhaps even appear in the resources or engage in community discussions themselves, make this informal learning valid and important.
A 2005 study indicated that managers who don’t get involved with informal learning discourage workers from pursuing it themselves.
Gamification can be a double-sided benefit. First of all, there is a lot of research indicating that gamification can truly increase engagement. It can encourage employees to turn again and again to the learning resources and motivate them to complete learning faster, while better retaining information.
Secondly, badges and leaderboards can help identify individuals who are experts in certain skill sets and knowledge. This will further encourage informal learning by allowing those with questions to turn to those with the highest knowledge for coaching and tips.
Providing informal learning resources in a micro-learning format can help make it more accessible. Micro-learning makes it easy for workers to use these resources for just-in-time, on the job training whether they need a refresher on the safety precautions to use for certain chemicals or a few extra tips to take their presentation skills to the next level.
Providing these micro-learning resources also means that employees will turn to your approved tips and methods rather than relying on unknown internet sources for their on-the-spot knowledge needs.
Discover Learning Record Stores
Some LMS software has learning record store (LRS) technology that can be integrated with your training program. LRS technology uses xAPI to help record training that happens outside the LMS and creates useful data for evaluating its effectiveness. An LRS can track social and informal learning as well as mobile learning and more traditional e-learning that happens within your LMS. An LRS can take blended and informal learning to the next level by providing data to measure how it’s working and even help you demonstrate the ROI of your informal learning program.
If You Provide the Informal Learning Resources, They Will Come
What the research essentially suggests is that there’s no hidden secret to informal learning – if you provide informal learning spaces that are actually useful, relevant, and effective, then workers will take full advantage.
So take care when fostering resources, and use the latest techniques in e-learning. Be sure to do research within your own company to ensure that your resources are hitting on worker pain points and knowledge gaps, as well as catering to various learning style needs. And create an environment conducive to learning from the ground up, with authority figures endorsing and demonstrating the importance of continuous knowledge gains.