Informal learning is receiving attention in learning and development circles these days. In fact, there have been 75 articles written in the past 1-2 years on this topic. What exactly is informal learning and how is it relevant for workplace learning and HR? This pie chart from KPMG Consulting makes the various learning sources clear and the lines between them, distinct. But does it really work that way? As I think about how I see people at work learn and use what they have learned, more than one of these learning sources is usually responsible. In reality, workplace learning is a process not an event. Learners often talk with peers and their boss before going to training. They attend the learning event and talk about it with fellow participants during the training and at breaks. When they return to work, if they have an opportunity or need, they hopefully will try and use what they have learned right away. Otherwise, when the opportunity or need arises in the future, they will try to remember what they learned, they will ask their boss or someone in their network, or they may access an on-demand resource or expert system if these are available. This interaction will (hopefully) trigger their memories and they will use what they learned. Conrad Gottfredson of BYU talks about 5 Moments of Need when learning is most likely to take place:
- When learning for the first time
- When wanting to learn more
- When trying to remember or apply what has been learned
- When things change
- When something goes wrong
Since only the first two – and maybe just the first – of these Moments of Need are applicable in formal learning events, it is important to consider the entire learning process and other Moments of Need when planning and delivering learning. Here are some suggestions for doing this:
- Make a topic-specific or course-specific web page available for past participants to access when they need a refresher. Summarize key learning points and supplementary exercises. Allow past participants to share their experiences so that others can learn from them. Send periodic reminders about the web page so that participants can access it when they want to learn more, when they are trying to use what they have learned, when things change, and/or when something goes wrong. There are templates and other aids available today that make developing a web page and preparing auto email reminders a quick and easy task.
- As a wrap-up activity during training or a debriefing activity afterwards, ask participants to write 3-5 key things they want to be sure to remember about what they have learned, so they can apply it as needed in their jobs. Collect what they have written. Distribute sealed envelopes if they prefer confidentiality and ask them to address the envelope to themselves. Otherwise, scan what they have written and save the file. 6-12 weeks after the training, send their handwritten notes back to them as a memory-jogger.
- Encourage participants to talk and learn from one another during training and on breaks. Suggest that they exchange contact information amongst themselves and stay in touch with one another afterwards, or provide a list to everyone, of participants with contact information. On the course web page (see above), include an interactive blog or wiki so participants can network and assist one another.
Until next time…