For most managers, their training budget is never enough. Even if you're lucky to work with a decent budget and you've spent it wisely, there will always be other training needs that come up. Informal learning can help your employees learn and develop their skills with minimum spend and - even better - minimum time away from work.
What is informal learning?
It's almost the opposite of formal learning - where people are invited to attend a course, seminar or workshop either in a classroom or in a virtual setting, or are asked to participate in an online course. Usually this learning is measured in some way, either through attendance records, feedback sheets or assessments.
Informal learning on the other hand, is usually driven by the employees themselves. They decide what they need to learn and how they'd like to learn it. They then choose the resources they need. These resources tend to be web based such as videos or articles, or books and podcasts, or learning from others through observation or social media. Informal learning tends not to be measured and is often difficult to track.
Why encourage informal learning?
When learning is driven by learners, it is generally more fulfilling. They choose what, where, when and how they learn to suit them. They are doing it purely because they want to or they have decided they need to. They know they're not going to be tested on it, so their focus is on understanding, or application, rather than remembering phrases for a multiple choice test. It's also pretty addictive. Once you start learning something that really interests you, you're more likely to keep going, learning more and learning about different things.
For your workplace, it's brilliant. People will take charge of their own development needs and in doing so, will inspire their colleagues to do the same. Before you know it, informal learning will be part of the culture.
What does informal learning include?
It could include some or all of these:
· Sharing best practice tips during a team meeting
· Showing another colleague how to do something
· Looking up how to do something on YouTube
· Asking your professional network on LinkedIn or Twitter
· Sharing a relevant newsletter with your team
· Reading a book or listening to a podcast
· Discussing the ways in which you could deal with a situation with colleagues
How to encourage informal learning
There are many ways that you can encourage informal learning in your workplace.
Allow it. Make it clear that (unless there's something really pressing that needs done), it's perfectly acceptable to spend some time on informal learning (as long as it's relevant).
Make time for it. It might make sense to allocate time specifically for informal learning. Google famously has their 20% rule which allows employees to spend 20% of their working time on their own projects.
Share it. Encourage your employees to share their experiences and outcomes with others. This could be done through your internal social network (if you have one), a forum on your intranet, or by email. You could also set a specific time or day (perhaps over lunch) and encourage a different employee to share what they've learned. That way, they're also getting practice at presenting.
Role model it. Above all, embrace it yourself. Role model informal learning and informal knowledge sharing yourself.
How can you encourage your team to learn more informally?