Here are the key criteria we discovered from our recent research, for successfully adopting informal learning within your organization:
Communications– Communications is vital for the embedding of informal learning within organizations. From senior managers to HR/L&D departments to employees, an open line of communications throughout the organization is vital.
Commitment– It’s essential to create an informal learning culture to encourage the sharing of information. What this needs is an absolute commitment from all members of the organization to the informal learning process. If people feel that they have a tacit endorsement to teach and share information, they will do so.
Personalize– Personalization is so integral to learner demands today that every attempt should be made to make informal learning more personalized. LMS systems could play a crucial role here with users receiving personalized information just as we do when we visit Amazon or watch our favourite videos on YouTube etc.
Collaborate– Collaboration is so essential to informal learning and the embedding of an informal learning culture that it needs to be top of mind throughout. While personalized learning is crucial, don’t do this at the expense of the collective and the need for sharing ideas and knowledge.
Ensure All Generations Are Involved– There’s sometimes a patronizing attitude towards older learners as they are unable or unprepared to take on newer technologies. Don’t fall into this trap and make informal learning the sole domain of newer generations. Informal learning can only be fully effective as a means of sharing expertise and knowledge transfer if it is fully embedded throughout the whole organization.
Remove The Barriers– The desire to share and be considered an expert is a feeling that the majority of employees share. Yet, too often, there are organizational obstacles in the way – whether it is hierarchy, geography or a lack of integration between different departments. Informal learning can only fulfill its true potential if such barriers are moved. How can this be achieved? Consider fostering information and education exchanges, create internal campaigns so that employees understand that they can reach out to their peers in other departments, make maximum use of the Intranet etc.
Take An Incremental Approach & Promote– It’s also important that the introduction of informal learning activities is carefully managed and promoted at the outset. Start with two or three initiatives so that employees can feel more comfortable with the self-directed approach. Again, it’s important not to believe that all employees have fully bought into the latest informal learning techniques and there’s a need to demonstrate what’s in it for the learner.
Think Social But Don’t Forget the Physical Aspects– With social media so prevalent within organizations today and a key catalyst and vehicle for informal learning, it’s important that social media is incorporated into informal learning provision right at the design stage. Managers, L&D and HR professionals and line managers must all be technically fluent. This being said, however, it’s important that the physical, non-technology elements of information are not discarded completely. This might include physical venues for information sharing through to brown-bag lunches and other activities.
Open Up Learning– Creating a culture where learning is prevalent in all activities is crucial.It’s important to overcome the mindset that learning is something that employees must register for.
Don’t Allow an Information Free for All– It’s essential that information is managed and structured to some extent and learners only access information that is relevant to them. It is important to ensure that employees are not aimlessly wondering around cyberspace looking for answers. Research by IDC, for example, found that knowledge workers spend 15 to 30% of their time gathering information where less than 50% of that information was relevant.
Focus on Goals & Outcomes– Against this context, learners still require some kind of direction and learning activities must still combine to focus on goals and outcomes. There are a host of technology tools that are enabling learners to better manage information from enhanced filtering through to personalized LMSs, easily searchable key words and alignments with formal learning.
The Importance of a Flexible LMS– An effective and flexible learning management system can play a crucial role in fostering an integrated and unified learning management environment that integrates formal and informal learning while still encouraging the unique characteristics of each.
Align Informal Learning with Talent Management Strategies– Informal learning today must also be linked to specific skills development and talent management strategies and structured in such a way that it has a measurable impact on individual and organizational performance.
Measure – Like any internal business process, it’s important that measurement metrics are in place. It’s only through this that informal learning can secure senior management buy-in and further investment. The board is not going to want to invest in new social networking tools or enterprise social networks just for employee enjoyment.
Highlight the Bottom Line– It’s also essential that the effects of informal learning on the bottom line be highlighted wherever possible. Examples might include reduced employee turnover, savings in recruitment and training costs to increased productivity and better use of talent throughout the organization.
Everyone Must Play Their Part– Ultimately, everyone must play their pay in a successful informal learning strategy. From HR departments reigning in their natural tendencies to drive initiatives but still providing a general context through to line managers encouraging reflection, mentoring and on-the job activities and senior managers adopting it themselves, informal learning is essentially a team effort with the learner at the center.