Why you should support informal learning in the workplace
Did you know that about 70% of our learning processes do not even take place within organized education and training, but more or less unconsciously during daily work, leisure time or among friends? This means that a colossal learning potential lies beyond the controllable reach of companies - or does it? In this article, you will read why so-called informal learning is essential in our future everyday working life and how you can support your employees in this process. Spoiler: Only with informal learning will it still be possible in the future to meet the rapid technological, social and economic changes that confront us every day in the company.
What is informal learning?
Informal, or non-formal, learning is the acquisition of relevant knowledge and skills as a natural byproduct of performing tasks. Learning occurs unintentionally, spontaneously, without a learning plan or formal review. Informal learning can take place anytime and anywhere - whether it's moving house and learning how to plug in a lamp by necessity, learning how to use the new version of a project management tool at work, or picking up a few phrases of a foreign language on a trip. These examples make it clear that informal learning usually finds its starting point in coping with problems.
... and what distinguishes informal learning from formal learning?
Formal learning, on the other hand, means organized, guided and/or assessed learning within the framework of an educational system. Contents are always defined, retrievable and testable. Formal learning always takes place consciously.
Eraut (2004) further distinguishes between three types of informal learning:
Acquiring knowledge without conscious intention to learn and without explicit awareness of what has been learned.
Example: When successfully using a new feature of project management software without instruction.
Spontaneous reflection on past and present events that yields new insights.
Example: an adjustment to a presentation triggered by the audience's past reactions.
Timed learning situations with a defined learning objective in which other unplanned learning processes take place incidentally.
Example: in order to learn with an e-learning software about a topic X, one watches a video tutorial on how to use the learning software in the first place.
3 ways to promote informal learning
Even though informal learning takes place independently of educational systems, this does not mean that it cannot be specifically promoted. If there is a problem to be solved, it naturally makes sense for the people concerned to quickly acquire exactly the knowledge they need to solve it. If we translate this initial situation, we speak of self-directed learning in the concrete moment of need.
Importantly, however, only with absolute self-direction of the learning process is it possible to meet the requirements of informal learning. Even the suggestion of a curriculum or a duty would deprive the learning process of the necessary spontaneity and destroy the opportunities that lie in informal learning. Moreover, it is essential that knowledge be accessible at all times and in all places. Ergo: the solution can only be a digital one.
The classic: knowledge bases
They are the oldest form of e-learning: digital knowledge bases. Although there are now much more effective ways of preparing knowledge digitally, databases are still significant - especially when employees themselves have the opportunity to fill them. In this way, knowledge can be shared quickly, easily and cost-effectively, while also promoting the social aspects of learning. After all, if a particular employee can be identified as the author of an entry, it is easy to contact her if further questions arise. A well-functioning knowledge base can thus even develop into an entire knowledge network.
Try to imagine a situation where you have a problem. As a rule, you then want a solution as quickly as possible.
Accordingly, it would not be particularly helpful if you first had to fight your way through an entire compendium. It would be much better if the relevant point was already marked. Microlearning does the same: Instead of extensive e-learning courses, microlearning provides tiny knowledge "nuggets" of one to a maximum of 15 minutes in length. This makes microlearning ideal for informal learning because, as we remember, it takes place in all kinds of situations - for example, directly at a machine that needs to be operated or on the train on the way to work. This means that not only can small windows of time be used effectively for learning, but also that problems can be solved efficiently exactly when they occur.
Enabling self-directed learning
Just because there is no curriculum in informal learning and employees are self-directed learners, doesn't mean they don't still need assistance - be it in knowledge transfer or in the learning itself. For this reason, it makes perfect sense to provide employees with optional tools. For example, in the form of digital, social networks in which they can seek exchange or also in the form of coaches who accompany the learning process and provide transfer assistance when it comes to putting newly learned knowledge into practice.
The bottom line.
Informal learning, of course, does not replace formal learning. However, far too little attention has been paid to informal learning to date, despite the fact that it accounts for 70% of our learning processes. Those who want to remain marketable and adaptable in the future will therefore hardly be able to avoid supporting employees in free and self-directed learning in the future. Only in this way will it be possible to meet the challenges of constant change - because no education system can be so forward-looking that it knows the problems before they even occur. Knowledgeworker offers you a full range of tools to efficiently promote e-learning.
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