Informal Learning Does Not Have to Be Formal

Written by Bill Cushard | Dec 30, 2013 7:37:59 PM

One of the biggest problems with social learning is that it is an informal type of learning and organizations can’t help but to try to formalize it in any way possible. It is understandable because a free-for-all in any function is hardly an effective way to run a business. While a free-for-all learning strategy might not be the most effective way to run a training department, Stephanie Ivec argues for keeping informal learning, informal, "Trying to turn informal learning into formal learning diminishes [its] unique benefits" writes Ivec.

If you are trying to get your head around how you can leverage informal learning in your organization, consider three ways in which Mindflash can help you do just that.

Tailor-made for Informal Learning

When it comes to eLearning, we act as if it is as formal as live, classroom training. After we develop a few eLearning courses, we start telling certain people to take certain eLearning courses by certain dates. We really do try to formalize something that is tailor-made for self-directed learning. Once you start to build up a library of eLearning courses in Mindflash, you can begin to promote the catalog not as a mandatory list of courses that must be taken by a certain date, but as a library of courses that people have access to whenever they need to learn something new or to get a refresher on a certain topic. And the shorter and more task-targeted your topics, the more effective this strategy will be.

This is what informal learning is all about: a self-directed approach to learning what is necessary to get a job done.

Yes, Tacit Knowledge Can be Transferred

Tacit knowledge is both a curse and a blessing. On the one hand, you want smart people in your organization with specialized skills, even if they are the only ones who know something. After all, you rely heavily on that specialized knowledge to do great things. On the other hand, you are at risk that when this person leaves your organization and that specialized skill goes with them.

The hardest thing about tacit knowledge is the difficulty of sharing that knowledge. It’s not like Barbara can just write down everything she knows about running such a great customer success organization. Tacit knowledge is best transferred through ongoing, informal conversations in communities of practice and other collaborative environments. By leveraging Mindflash and Yammer, you can create collaborative environments around eLearning topics in which experts and newbies alike can engage in conversations about specific work practices. Some of that tacit knowledge will be transferred to those willing to receive it.

Central Knowledge Hub

If it is true that people learn 70% of what they need to know about their jobs through some form of informal, on-the-job learning, then it is hard not to want to figure out a way to leverage the power of informal learning. By creating a central knowledge hub of sorts, you can create an environment in which people come to discuss ideas and solutions to work related problems. But don’t just create a single central hub. It is best to structure multiple hubs around specific topics to focus the collaboration on things that matter to the organization. Using Yammer with Mindflash gives you the power to create theses hubs and structure them in ways that are aligned with your business goals.

Some Structure Matters

Although you don’t want to kill the power of informal learning by trying to formalize it, you can reap benefits from it if you provide some structure in which people can discover their own path.

How are you using Mindflash to foster informal learning in your organization?

Bill Cushard, authorblogger, and learning experience (LX) designer, is a human performance technologist (HPT) with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Accenture. You can follow him on Twitter or on Google+.