Educating children and young people is the main concern of parents starting with the potty and ending with a good college. And even though formal education is definitely important and plays a big role in their development, it’s actually but a small piece of the picture.
Children learn most from their parents, siblings and care takers because that is the natural way. They hear about Santa Claus around Christmas, they find out about marine creatures when they visit an aquarium and they get familiar with all sorts of noises and textures by experiencing them.
At school there is a set curriculum that has nothing to do with timing or context and therefore feels somewhat impersonal. Once they get a job, they often find that learning happens in the same rigid way – there is a learning path for each role, boxes must be checked, training hours must be filled and maybe there have to be some visible results at the end of all these.
Without ruling out traditional L&D practices, informal learning should find its way into today’s workplace. First of all, it is very cost effective. Furthermore it is convenient and learner-oriented, promotes a growth mindset and is objective driven.
8 practices to facilitate informal learning
Most informal learning just happens with no intention on the learner’s part but there are some ways to facilitate that. Here are eight of them:
A good buddy system
People learn best from those they like or admire. Chemistry is important so setting up a framework where each employee can choose a mentor, somebody they can learn easily from is a first step. Of course this will only work if the company has an overall growth culture in which asking questions, sharing experience and shadowing are encouraged.
On the job experimentation
People learn best from first-hand experience but most often they are afraid of making mistakes in the workplace so they hesitate to tackle challenging issues or look for ways to innovate. If the company, however, encourages employees to experiment without worrying about being reprimanded they will feel more comfortable and prove more productive.
A job rotation system
Most of the issues that occur among employees from various departments that need to work together come from a lack of true understanding of what each role implies. Giving people the opportunity to experience what it is like to work at somebody else’s desk will allow them to expand their knowledge and their understanding of how the organization works.
Dedicated time for employee chosen projects
It’s no secret that to be motivated, people need to have a sense of purpose. Google has been allowing its employees to work on their own projects 20% of the time. The outcomes for a company that does this can be tremendous – Gmail, Google Maps, Twitter, Slack, and Groupon all started as side projects. If the organization can’t afford to give away so much time there can be a couple of days per semester when people can team-up and work on what they like.
We live in an age when we don’t search for news, the news find us. Harnessing the immense power of social media in the organization can be only beneficial. Everything from microblogs to wikis, video sharing, article sharing and online forums will boost up the learning. L&D professionals can act as moderators but the content should be primarily user-generated or shared.
Employee set-up CoPs
This pretty much goes in line with the social sharing but has a more targeted objective. Internet based communities of practice can act as useful hubs for people who work in the same areas. They can connect, share ideas and even work together on projects when that proves necessary or simply more effective.
Read more: Expanding your company L&D strategy to CoPs
Having a set of well thought out learning programs is good and ensure that all employees will get a certain degree of instruction. Yet in an organization with a solid growth culture, one that encourages informal learning and ongoing self-development there should be an open library of different resources from books to e-learning modules and memberships to various professional websites. Accessibility is also a big issue so everybody should be able to tap into that library at all times via multiple personal devices.
Fun and games
Last but not at all least, a lot of learning is done through games. Incorporating game mechanics not only in the formal training interventions but also in everyday activities will increase cognitive retention and bring higher engagement rates. Ultimately, games can be serious business and generate great results.
All in all
There are many ways to make informal learning at home in an organization because businesses are made of people and that is how they naturally grow and acquire information. Once the best suited mediums are set up it will all flow unhindered from there.
Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.