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Leading the Informal Learning Revolution

Posted by Ken Klaus on September 19, 2008

Last week I attended the CLO Breakfast Seminar in San Francisco, hosted by CLO Media, where we discussed how to define, deliver and measure learning’s value to an organization – essentially how do we justify the time and money we spend providing learning opportunities for our employees.  Now the hippie in me needs to tell you that there is absolutely no reason to ever defend the time and expense of training your workforce.  Learning is an end in itself and I think in this case the ends definitely justify the means.  But the reality is most of us hippies moved out of the commune and into the corporation a long time ago, which means we do have to justify how we spend our company’s training dollars.


Truthfully, this used to be a far easier task, because the way learning was consumed (mainly in the classroom) gave instructors the opportunity to immediately evaluate the impact of the course material using surveys and assessments; but over the past several years learning has undergone some significant changes.  The classroom is no longer the center of the learning experience.  Social networking, the new informal delivery methods like blogging, wikis chats, forums, etc., and the introduction of millennials into the workforce have radically reshaped how employees both work and learn.


At last weeks CLO seminar, Bob Lee, Learning Solution Strategist for Cisco, stated that today most companies are still investing nearly 70% of their learning budgets in traditional learning methodologies (classroom training, self-paced desktop courses, webinars, etc.) even though nearly 70% of the learning employees consume is now through informal methods, like blogs, wikis, forums, chats, etc.  This means learning executives not only must adapt their learning programs to accommodate these new methodologies, but they must also lead the way in demonstrating the value these new tools bring to the organization.  The question is, how do we measure the value of informal learning?


At Oracle we’ve been using social networking and informal learning tools for a good while now, at least within the applications division, and from what I’ve observed there are some easy ways for learning administrators to gauge the value of informal learning brings to their business.  They can start by simply asking their employees – ask them which of these tools they are using, how often they use them, and how effective they are.  They should also ask how often the employee simply consumes information vs. how often they contribute to the knowledge base as authors, responders or reviewers; because I think active participation vs. passive consumption is the best measurement of the value these tools bring to your organization.


In addition to employee based valuation, learning executives must also link these informal learning methodologies to the employee’s profile, performance and development plans.  The simple fact is people want credit for the learning they complete and today most learning management systems only record the learning in which an employee formally enrolls.  Very few solutions provide a way to capture the informal learning (the 70% or more) employees consume; not to mention a way of integrating this content with performance goals and development plans.  Oracle’s Enterprise Learning Management application includes a supplemental learning tool that allows administrators to define and configure non-traditional learning methods like blogging, wikis, and forums which employees can then use to create custom learning records.  Afterwards, these entries can be associated with specific learning objectives and performance goals which are in turn reflected on the employee’s profile record.  This is one way to give employees credit for the informal learning they complete, but learning management solution providers must get beyond the traditional enrollment model and begin to rethink the way learning is delivered and consumed.

Finally, learning executives need to make a commitment to informal learning.  Peruse any edition of your favorite talent management publication, attend any talent management conference, or browse any of the talent management blogs on the internet today and what you will find is a vast dialogue on the social networking – informal learning – web 2.0 revolution.  This revolution is not something that’s coming – it’s here already; and learning executives ought to be the architects and champions of these new methodologies.  They should be leading the fight to demonstrate the value and effectiveness of informal learning – not only in reducing costs, but also in supporting and achieving the business objectives of their company; because learning methodologies will come and go, but good leadership will always be in-style.

3 Responses to “Leading the Informal Learning Revolution”

  1. Because so many companies are pressed for time, training often takes a back seat to the other necessary parts of getting through a business day and week, and especially to paid services. Informal learning thus becomes incredibly important and can often be as useful as paying for training opportunities. As someone that advises small business computer consultants, I often tell them that, because making time for technical training, research and development is so difficult often just arranging to have a mini “learning lab” in your office with some not-for-resale software packages, etc. that can be installed and learned and uninstalled over and over again during downtime to help hone skills can be one of many invaluable “informal” learning opportunities. So, when you don’t have the budget or the time for formal training, there are certainly other opportunities that can really work! Thanks for this informative article!

  2. Jay Cross said

    You might want to check out What is Informal Learning?

  3. […] Klaus, K. (2008) ‘Leading the Informal Learning Revolution.’ TalentedApps Blog, 19 Sept […]

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