Research shows that approximately 80% of learning happens in an informal environment, like conversations with coworkers. Informal learning is more personal and based on natural interactions, but that doesn’t mean you can’t provide support to encourage this type of learning.
Those impromptu conversations by the water cooler or over lunch in the cafeteria are great, but what about organizations with global offices? And even in relatively small companies, many employees don’t communicate regularly with people outside of their department. When organizations facilitate informal learning, they make it easy for employees to learn from the subject matter experts (SMEs), and not just the most knowledgeable person an employee knows. These SMEs want to share their knowledge and employees want to acquire the best information they can to successfully complete their projects, but they need the support of the organization to make it happen.
It’s not that learning should be a free-for-all where employees only learn what they want. The point is to consider that workers are already learning effectively by talking to coworkers and through individual research, so why not make that process easier with a solution that is geared toward informal learning?
Social software, especially when combined with video technology and a structured learning management system, can support those natural, informal learning efforts. Instead of having those conversations around the water cooler, you can ask questions, get answers, and have discussions in an activities stream. This not only allows for the conversation to happen across the organization, but it is then documented and is searchable for future reference by you or your colleagues.
You can share a presentation you’re building and learn from the feedback of your organization’s experts. Engage those SMEs by collaborating on a document together within the social software and keep those informal learning efforts as a part of your company’s knowledge repository. When you document these discussions, you’re turning them into learning assets that current and future employees can use to answer similar questions and build off of to encourage more informative conversations.
Structured learning should maintain its place in the organization; as a formal training tool that guides employees through information the company finds crucial. However, this can’t account for everything employees will need to know. By supporting both formal and informal learning, organizations can better engage their employees and improve performance across the company.