Many times, learning is a natural process through actions like:
- Asking questions – Online queries, in-person dialogues, research/reading and internal probing.
- Observing something or someone – Watching videos, live or virtual demonstrations and observing the actions of others.
- Taking action – Physically or mental problem-solving, responding to situations and emulating others.
None of these natural learning behaviors include sitting in a classroom for 60 minutes and listening to a lecture, yet that is so often how organizations choose to execute their training strategy. Formal learning strategies, like classroom-based training, provide structured content, but they don’t allow learners the freedom to make organic discoveries.
If you want to bring deep learning opportunities to your workforce you’re going to have to look beyond the confines of the conference room and make room for informal learning.
5 Benefits of Informal Learning
Informal learning is a key component of an impactful corporate training strategy because it simulates a natural, self-driven learning experience. When employees are given a level of control over their training they are more likely to form positive opinions about all aspects of their training plan—including those lengthy in-person sessions that they might normally dread. Additionally, when training shifts from a purely obligatory activity to an exploratory opportunity, employees become more engaged in their own skill development—resulting in deep learning and improved performance in the long run.
If you’re not familiar with the benefits of informal learning, here’s five reasons that will help put the wind behind your sails as you push for a training strategy that incorporates both formal and informal elements.
- Applies to all skill levels – Whether your employee is a rookie or an all-star, he or she has the capacity to ask questions, make observations and apply new learning just like anyone else on your team. Since informal learning doesn’t require prior experience, all your employees can start with the same learning objective and acquire knowledge at their own pace.
- Triggers an intrinsic motivation to learn – Human beings are wired to think and act independently. For every activity or decision made, there is a motivating factor that results in a perceived benefit to that individual. When learning isn’t a forced behavior, it becomes more natural and personal to the learner—often triggering a genuine, sustained interest in a topic that could not have been manufactured otherwise.
- Can take place in any setting – Informal learning thrives in both non-virtual and virtual environments, and can be facilitated independently or in a collaborative environment with an equally beneficial end-result. Regardless of the employee’s physical location or surroundings, he or she can form new ideas and develop valuable skills.
- Improves knowledge retention – When concepts are learned over time, through repetition and perseverant activity, they are more likely to result in mastery. In comparison to formal training modules that typically present large quantities of information in a short time, informal learning allows for continuous, natural learning to occur—resulting in higher levels of knowledge retention.
- Creates a culture of continuous exploration – When employees are forced into training, they don’t typically develop an affinity for it. If you want your workforce to get excited about learning new things and furthering their own skill development, put them behind the driver’s seat and let them learn at their own pace. You’ll quickly find that your employees’ enthusiasm for discovery will be infectious.
If you want to work informal learning into your corporate training program, consider the options listed below.
Examples of Informal Learning
- Workplace mentoring
- Social media engagement
- Team building activities
- Company sports teams or interest groups
- Online discussion groups or forums
- Rotational assignments
- Memberships to professional groups
In addition to the informal learning examples listed above, there are many ways that a learning management system (LMS) can facilitate a blended training strategy that incorporates informal learning elements.
LMS Tips for Informal Learning
- Enable course commenting so that users can share opinions and experiences related to their assigned courses.
- Provide self-study courses through the LMS that allow employees to complete training at their own pace.
- Leverage the online discussion board or forum within your LMS to create a virtual community where employees can learn from one another.
- Turn on social features within your LMS so that employees can share their course completions on social networks like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
In combination with the informal learning examples listed above, using your LMS for informal learning can be a great strategy to improve the effectiveness of your corporate training strategy.
Start Using Informal Learning Today!
Informal learning can improve employee engagement, skill mastery and on-the-job performance. If you’re looking to optimize your corporate training program, adopting a strategy that incorporates formal and informal learning elements will help you develop a balanced and effective training experience for your workforce. Try adding one or more of the examples above to your training strategy, like workplace mentoring or online discussion groups or forums, to see the full benefit of informal learning.
Author Bio: Sarah Johnson works for Knowledge Anywhere, a leading eLearning solution provider in the corporate training realm. For more articles on popular eLearning topics, visit www.knowledgeanywhere.com.
This blog was first published in BetterBuys.