I attended the “Informal and Social Learning” session led by Patti Shank and Ben Betts. Did you know that 70 – 90% of workplace learning is informal and social? The big inquiry for this session was whether or not it makes sense to spend most of our resources building training courses when people learn informally and socially for most workplace needs.
We hear the terms “social” and “informal” a lot in the learning world, but what do they mean?
On Trends in Informal Learning…
Informal learning includes situations where the learner determines some combination of the process, location, purpose, and content. The learner may not even be aware that instruction has occurred.
When we ask professionals where they get their work-related knowledge, they increasingly say “not from my training department.” Half of the respondents say training is somewhat important. We’re entering an age in which people are taking control of their own learning.
Many of us work in knowledge-oriented businesses. It seems that we can’t build training courses fast enough for people to keep up with their jobs these days. What does this trend mean for learning professionals? We need to change what we’re doing, Patti and Ben suggest. The cost of content is gradually reducing to zero. We must remember that our specialty is knowing how people learn. It’s becoming more important to collaborate with teams, meet with people, and curate content.
On Trends in Social Learning…
Social learning is part of informal learning. It helps build our social efficacy, which allows us to judge how we’re doing in comparison to someone else. It is not a new concept. It happens naturally; you don’t “switch” it on. We’re being enabled by new technologies to interact with each other in a social sphere.
Social learning helps us learn what “good” looks like. If people don’t know where they are, it’s difficult to determine what they need to improve. Here are some guidelines for using social learning principles at work:
- Interacting with someone else who can help you scaffold is much more effective than learning alone.
- Participating in what Patti and Ben call “communities of practice in situated learning” allows you to learn from the crowd. Some examples include Quora and the eLearning Guild.
- Learning in the presence of others is a growing trend. Acquiring personal endorsements on LinkedIn is a good example.
On Implementing Social and Informal Learning at Work…
There’s nothing worse than starting a “community of practice” in your organization that no one uses. It’s embarrassing, say Patti and Ben. They suggest finding out where learning in your organization is already taking place, and then identifying ways to improve those opportunities.
Patti and Ben offer additional guidelines for supporting informal learning at work:
- Most of the time it’s about giving permission to talk to one another. They quote Jane Bozarth: “The best social media policy is ‘Don’t do anything that would make me write a social media policy.’”
- Don’t act like a parent; don’t tell people what to do. Instead, ask, “What resources do you need?” People respond well to self-study resources.
- If you want to kill informal learning, make it mandatory.
- Create, source, and curate resources.
- Leverage appropriate technologies for your organization.