As I’ve been talking to fellow L&D professionals about their thoughts around social and informal learning – specifically about how they plan on formally integrating these approaches into their learning strategies – it’s been clear to me that there is much excitement about the potential of these methodologies to significantly increase L&D’s capability to support the business.
One of the barriers – if that’s the appropriate word – is the fact that learners don’t necessarily recognise these approaches as “training” and so neglect to make the most of them. The feeling is that by educating people as to the validity of social and informal learning, there is much scope to use these methods to better leverage workplace learning.
If we are looking to give our learners some pointers to get them started, then perhaps we can look at the “five moments of learning need” framework as our model.
First of all, what are the five moments of learning need, originally outlined by Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson?
- When learning something new
- When learning more about something
- When trying to apply something you’ve learned
- When trying to solve an issue – something that’s not arisen before
- When learning when things change
Learning something new for the first time was once the cue for L&D to design a course – and latterly quite possibly some form of digital learning – but there’s an increasing recognition that our learners have often self-started here and chosen to learn informally via whatever content they’ve sought out. Indeed with the ever stronger desire to offer learners more personalised learning options, there is no realistic way that L&D can ever hope to offer everything an individual needs. Our role is to ensure our learners can learn efficiently and effectively regardless of their chosen approach.
|Instructor-led/facilitated programmes or digital learning courses offering a prescribed core curriculum of content.||Access to bite-sized pieces of content: professionally developed, user-generated or curated, that is constantly added to, based on learner demand.||Communities of interest or practice based on topics or roles, where learners can seek answers from FAQs or pose questions in moderated groups. I’m also hearing about learners being put in direct contact with subject matter experts in online communities and encouraged to collectively work through the topic of interest, so avoiding the need to develop a formal course.|
From my discussions, it’s clear that social and informal learning has a key role to play in providing the next layer of learning, over and above the basics, e.g. what might be taught formally. It’s how we can personalise the content to suit learners’ own situations and help them transition gently to expert status.
|Instructor-led/facilitated programmes or digital learning courses offering a prescribed core curriculum of content. Less easy to tailor, however, to reflect the context in which each learner will subsequently need to apply the learning.||Access to resources that provide additional higher-level content, but designed to reflect the different environments in which the learners will need to apply their new skills and knowledge.
Tailored micro-learning assets will be favoured over content that adheres to the “one size fits all” approach.
|Learning communities where course alumni can be exposed to discussions and additional content that helps them to augment what they’ve already learned, but in the context of their part of the organisation. Moderators from that part of the business can help steer the learners to higher levels of comprehension.|
We are also recognising the need to leverage social and informal learning to support the critical phase of applying learning back on the job. We know that learners need support in order to break those old habits and to feel able to apply their new knowledge and practice their newly acquired skills. Deep down we know we should never leave this to chance and, on reflection, sometimes the negative side of social and informal learning (e.g. peer pressure to maintain the status quo, or unofficial resources that dilute the core messages) have been a hindrance.
|Typically, formal learning has been poor at supporting the transfer and application of learning. Formal coaching or mentoring programmes are, however, one way in which learners can be supported.||Checklists helping learners to translate what they’ve learned into actionable steps.
Micro-learning pieces that answer the inevitable “how do I?” questions. Micro-learning refresher resources that help learners to recall the learning at the point when they need to use it.
|Learning communities or communities of practice where learners can seek the support of their fellow learners or more experienced colleagues when looking for support in applying what they’ve learned.|
In terms of learning models, the process of solving requires more systematic thinking about what is happening, drawing on prior knowledge and experience and creating new connections that lead to a considered outcome. Learners may lack enough of the knowledge and experience to be able to quickly determine the root causes and suitable solutions.
|Formal approaches – other than courses on problem solving – are less likely to offer real-time assistance.||Resources that provide guidance on problem solving techniques, including micro-learning assets, perhaps featuring experienced colleagues sharing their hints and tips.||Communities of practice where learners can ask for the support of others who may have encountered the problem before or who can suggest approaches to work through the issue and come up with a solution. Libraries of FAQs can provide a useful archive of issues with their validated answers.|
Change can be major or minor. If the change is major, then you could argue that everyone goes back to the same starting point and a new programme of learning is developed. But in the case of minor changes, then the learning needs are likely to be smaller. For example, someone might need to un-learn something and then learn the new way, or replace some now out-of-date information with its latest update, or perhaps even just receive some fresh guidance on how to approach whatever had changed.
|If the change is major, then more formal approaches might be used to “sheep-dip” the business.||New or updated checklists could steer people through the changes, particularly if they just refer to different ways of doing an otherwise familiar task.
Micro-learning assets could address individual parts of the change, so that learners can assimilate these in a more targeted manner.
|Successful change programmes require high-level sponsors and champions and good communication channels. Communities of practice can be used to both communicate the changes, to facilitate discussions and provide responses to questions and requests for help. Being “real time”, some organisations are already recognising how social learning can provide a quick and responsive alternative to trying to devise a more formal programme of support.|
Talking with my peers, it’s clear that some of our learners have a very narrow personal definition of learning in the workplace.
We need to do more to signpost the different times people have a need to learn and explain the various ways this can happen, highlighting that formal approaches are not the only – or even best – option and then provide an environment in which social and informal learning can flourish.