How (and Why) You Should Promote Informal Learning with Trainees (and the Boss)

When was the last time you asked your training audience where they get more of their training from? Do they learn more about their job from formal training (classroom, online, etc.) or do they learn more informally (from peers, managers, etc.)?

You should find out, and here's why: Informal learning  accounts for over 75% of the learning taking place in organizations today. In the past many companies viewed informal learning as a negative reflection on their formal training programs.  If trainees were learning from a co-worker instead of a trainer it meant that there was a training "gap" or a need not being addressed in the classroom.

In today's faster, cheaper, better world the fact that 75% of learning takes place without a structured training intervention is a big glowing dollar sign to business leaders trying to pinch pennies.  But for training this new willingness to embrace informal learning raises a big question - how does the training team fit into the picture when trainees are learning more from each other than they are from you?

Reality Check

Training is about facilitating change to positively impact performance so training leaders need to get out in front of informal learning by taking the lead and coming to the table with practical strategies for supporting an informal learning culture.  This kind of change is bigger than just the training department. You'll need a top-down commitment to informal learning - and that starts with convincing your colleagues and leaders that there's a compelling reason to change.

Convincing the Boss

  • Good news: you've got data on your side. Refer to published research and ideas compiled in numerous books and articles to help you make an informed argument.
  • Speak to doubts with your own data. If you don't already have data supporting your case, create an anonymous survey using free tools like SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang to find out how your trainees really learn.  When you report the survey findings, frame the results around how the training team plans to capitalize on informal learning to lower costs and drive performance.
  • Offer specific ideas (see a few of mine below) to help wary colleagues and leaders feel more comfortable with informality.

Promoting Informal Learning with Trainees

Once you've got momentum for change, try implementing some of these ideas to promote informal training in the workplace.

  • Build mentoring and coaching duties into everyone's job expectations and provide training and guidelines on how to mentor and coach colleagues.
  • Provide resources for trainees to learn from one another on the fly.  This can be as simple as a spreadsheet highlighting who on the team is experienced in what so everyone automatically knows the "expert" to turn to for questions.
  • Make critical information universally and electronically accessible (e.g. a .pdf everyone has on their desktop, a bookmarked web page with product specs, etc.).
  • Reward best practices that foster information sharing and innovation - and discourage silos.
  • Use free & low-cost tools that ease collaboration between teams.  Tools like Google Docs are great for collaborative document editing/sharing.  DropBox is my go-to tool for file-sharing with version control.  Mindflash (shameless plug) offers a super-flexible platform for quickly sharing (and tracking the use of ) training content.
  • Entrust your trainees with tools that support informal learning including smart phones, up-to-date computers, and internet acccess in the workplace.
  • Abandon formal training programs that don't deliver results in favor of trainee-generated content or trainee-led workshops that allow trainees to learn best practices from their peers.

I'm the first to admit that I'm no expert in informal learning...but Jay Cross is.  I highly recommend his Informl learning blog for great insight and advice on this topic.  Also checkout the free resources Eden Tree offers on their site including an informal learning guide and a diagnostic tool to help you uncover ways of enhancing the quality of informal learning already taking place.

Still not convinced that the training team should have a role in promoting informal learning?  Share your ideas with us and leave a comment.

---

Trina Rimmer is a learning and communications consultant with twelve years experience designing, developing, and delivering smart, engaging training. When her training skills aren't being tested by her children, you'll find her helping others to develop their own design muscles.

Start a free trial.

See how your retail business can leverage Mindflash to deliver consistent, up-to-date, on-brand training affordably.