October's Spotlight is provided by Jonathan Thomas, at AllenComm!
When we think of education and learning, often what comes to mind is a classroom with a teacher and a very structured syllabus. However, a lot of learning takes place in more informal settings. An enlightening conversation with a new hire, a quick Google search on business methodologies and best practices, or even navigating an assignment at work that is a little above your ability are all situations in which employee development happens naturally. Informal training is an organic way we all learn, and it often happens without a second thought.
The question is: how do you go about bottling the serendipitous learning magic that happens every day into a more structured form of learning? Moreover, how do you enable and expand upon informal learning activities? Corporate training can be brutal at times, but by using informal training methods you can help to ease the rigid beatdown of information overload and drive employee engagement.
Informal Training Methods
Stretch Assignments - This is where you assign your employees tasks that are a bit beyond their current knowledge, so they must expand their skill set and grow into a role. For instance, a new hire may be charged with managing an intern, or a manager can be moved into a failing department with the goal of turning it around. However, stretch assignments can also be integrated into the new hire training experience. For example, align stretch assignments with a structured eLearning course to supplement capstone activities. This way you can determine whether your new hire can apply their skills to a novel challenge outside of a digital learning environment.
Mentoring - When supporting stretch assignments, the role of mentors can be critical, but generally their role is to pass on tribal knowledge. Often, mentors teach by example or through the sharing of experiences. But educational theories have suggested that the act of teaching another also reinforces knowledge for the mentor. So, adding structure to mentors' interactions can help to maintain the skills they've already acquired.
Measuring & Tracking Informal Learning
Taking different types of learning that happen so organically and implanting it into a structured education system is tricky but can be done with some careful learning design strategy. It all comes down to identifying skills and supporting knowledge along a learning path. Then, you have to determine which content would be better suited to informal learning activities. One approach is to keep the critical knowledge embedded within formal eLearning or instructor-led training formats and expand upon those skills using informal methods. However, it is also important to designate blocks of time to ensure employees can complete these informal activities. can track it and incorporate it into the lessons.
Learning Portals and Technology
Take advantage of training technology, like learning portals, to push supporting assets and track progress as your learners navigate their learning path. For instance, create logs of mentoring sessions with highlights and lessons learned. You can also use a social sharing feature to enable learners to discuss assets they found helpful or insightful conversations. Beyond that, with the data you gather, you may find trends (i.e., preferred mediums and asset types) that help you design a better formal curriculum.
Though formal learning tends to dominate the corporate training landscape, informal learning experiences account for much of the employee development that happens after new hire onboarding. By adding structure to these learning experiences, your employees will surely benefit. It just takes a bit of planning and some tech support.