Informal Learning is Business

This is the second in a series of posts about how business can profit from informal learning. We’re recapping the book before getting into the current scene.

What makes informal learning effective
Informal learning is effective because it’s personal. The individual calls the shots. The learner is responsible. It’s real. We learn in context, with others, as we live and work. Recognizing this fact is the first step to crafting an effective learning strategy.

People with experience like to learn but hate to be taught. People who already know the lay of the land don’t want a curriculum. That’s someone else’s opinion of what they need to know. They prefer to cherry-pick what they need in the most convenient way available. They expect the freedom to connect the dots for themselves. Intrinsic motivation trumps following orders.

This is business
If a learning project–make that any project–does not make business sense, don’t do it. If the return on investment is not so obvious that you can sketch it out on the back of a napkin, do something with a higher return.

The appropriate measure of learning is how good a job one is doing. Training metrics should be business metrics.

Getting down to cases
The book describes how organizations have taken advantage of informal learning.

  • Communities of practice rely on practitioners to discover, document, and bring their members up to speed organically.
  • Workers become better learners when they understand how learning works, set expectations, know themselves, reflect, take notes, and cement what they learn by revisiting it.
  • Conversations are the stem cells of learning. Encourage meaningful conversation by recognizing its value, making room for it, supporting a culture of sharing, demanding candor and understanding, and relying on storytelling to communicate.
  • Organizations have relied on graphics to develop corporate strategy and bring it to life. After all, humans are sight mammals.
  • eLearning failed coming out of the starting blocks because learning involves a lot more than exposure to content, and you can’t take people out of the equation. A smart organization blends context, reinforcement, interaction, and more into the learning mix.
  • A few have invested in building learning ecologies, shared spaces where people learn. They pay attention to social networks to optimize organizational performance.
  • Replacing stodgy, over-planned meetings and conferences with spontaneous “unconferences” makes events more relevant and at the same time cut costs.

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