Most of what we learn isn’t through instructor-led training or courses delivered via a learning management system (LMS). Rather, we gain knowledge through a variety of informal means and methods—such as searching the web, asking a coworker for help, or watching online tutorials. And, because these informal learning experiences are already happening in your organization, it’s important to know how to recognize and foster them.
Create a Complete Learning Experience
When you support informal learning, you’re creating a more complete learning experience. And, getting started may be easier than you realize—especially when you consider the following recommendations for distributed learning from Andrew Downes, a learning and interoperability expert at our sister company, Watershed.
1) Identify And Promote Experts
When you map out social learning in your organization, you’ll find certain people are regularly credited as sources of learning on particular topics. Whether these people are subject matter experts or just great at explaining certain areas, they’re valuable sources when it comes to informal training in your organization.
Often, people will find these internal experts on their own. So, make sure these experts are publicly known within your organization so everyone can benefit from their knowledge and expertise. Furthermore, this helps prevent workplace learners from wasting time and resources looking for information when they could have simply reached out to an internal expert.
Publishing areas of expertise (e.g. on an intranet or staff directory), makes finding the right people easier and faster. Be sure to track data about informal learning, so you can ensure you’re promoting the most helpful experts and the most popular topics.
2) Enhance Online Community Management
When it comes to online learning, use captured data to improve the overall structure of your social learning platforms. For example, you discover two groups are learning about the same or similar topics. Bringing those groups together could benefit everyone. Or, your data might tell you people learn best in smaller groups, which could then influence your choice of platform tools and setup.
3) Plan Office Layouts and Seating Arrangements
Capture data about in-person, social training to reorganize office layouts and seating arrangements that better promote and reinforce informal learning.
For example, create a seating arrangement that easily allows certain people to be near the right internal experts. Or, rearrange desks if one team is regularly learning from others who sit on the opposite side of the building.
4) Offer Formal Learning to Complement Informal Learning
After you identify how people are learning on the job, provide tailored support materials and formal learning resources such as eLearning to complement informal learning experiences. Learners will not only be more likely to pay attention to these materials, but also better equipped to absorb and comprehend information.
Help Learners Support Their Own Informal Learning
Supporting informal learning isn’t limited to the L&D team. A recent article about learning in the flow of work suggests that individuals can support their own informal learning by taking several simple steps. These include:
- Finding opportunities to learn from your peers by starting conversations and asking questions.
- Making time to learn. Chances are, if you don’t plan dedicated time to learn, it probably won’t happen. So, schedule a reoccurring time on your calendar to keep you focused and on track.
- Creating a list of topics and resources that pique your interest, so you can incorporate them into your learning routine. Tip: Try using note-taking apps (such as Evernote) to bookmark websites, clip articles, and manage your list.
Learning Happens Everywhere
Remember, people are always learning across your organization. So, it’s critical to take action that supports and reinforces these types of informal learning experiences.