The exponential use of virtual platforms, and access to online learning spaces, has reinforced a profound, yet time-honored form of learning – the social/ informal one. The Educause Review says, such learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is constructed through conversations about the content, not the content itself. But it’s not just limited to the virtual world. It happens more in spaces where people gather to connect – cafeterias, team gatherings, etc. In other words, informal or non-structured spaces.

CapitalWorks, a private equity firm, surveyed hundreds of workers about how they really learned their skills. They found that:

  • Informal learning was three times more important for people to become proficient in their jobs.
  • Workers learn as much during breaks and lunch, as during on- and off-site meetings.
  • Workers often need to work around formal procedures and processes to get their jobs done.
  • Workers build skills by modeling the behavior of co-workers, and hence want more interaction.

Organizations the world over are stepping up, to harness the power of informal and social learning. Let’s look at some of the most successful stories.

Decentralizing learning pathways

Problem: Cricket Communications, a rapidly growing telecommunications company, realized that their lean learning team could not directly meet the training needs of employees, while the company scaled.

Solution: John Moxley, Director of Leadership Development, in collaboration with the business unit managers, created a checklist of the key things that people in each job needed to master. This was a fine-grained one, as compared to most competency lists. They used an online tracking tool to distribute the list to employees, who could choose how and when (within a timeframe) they would learn each item.

Result: Some employees took e-learning courses, some asked for mentorship from colleagues/ managers, and some used text messaging to get tips from friends, while performing the task. The tracking technology allowed the organization to stay abreast of progress, while leaving control in the hands of the learners.

Nurturing the right mindset and personal interactions

Problem: Cisco’s training division had no credibility, and no strategy. People avoided learning opportunities. When Tom Kelly, VP of Worldwide Learning, took over the division, he had to train 4000 sales employees, 15000 partner organizations, and innumerable customers. He had to match the pace of learning at Cisco with the speed of the company’s market changes.

Solution: Kelly implemented changes at many levels. He transformed an anti-training mindset, which focused only on utilization numbers and negated the importance of relationships at work. He also dissolved requirements around fixed training hours, and rigid curricula. Instead, employees were assessed to determine their competency and how much training they needed. Lastly, he deployed many short e-learning courses, which people could access at their convenience. Live video trainings, where people could do assignments in groups, share learnings and brainstorm, were also added to the mix.

Result: With employees getting the exact learning they need – collaborative, convenient, relevant – they are more accountable and proactive.

Proof enough that informal learning works!

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