Chief Learning Officer West, Harry
Informal learning has become as important to corporate training as traditional learning, and smart companies are adding it to their employee development programs to produce more skilled employees and a competitive advantage for the company. Informal learning is more user-driven than the traditional top-down education programs, producing knowledge and learning where it is most needed rather than for an abstract future date. Its characteristics are that it takes place outside a classroom or corporate training department, it does not necessarily follow a specific curriculum and is more sporadic and related to specific occasions, and it is experienced as part of the workday or everyday life. It can come from books, self-study programs, performance support material systems, coaching, practice groups, expert communities, and social media. Some specific examples include a phone call with someone who has important information, a live sales meeting, instant messaging, and even chance watercooler meetings. In all of these examples the employee is learning from another person and not training materials and they are participating in learning rather than just receiving information. Indeed, some experts estimate that 80 percent of learning is informal and takes place on the job. For a specific metric to gauge its success, employee engagement is a useful measure and can be found with social feedback mechanisms. Among the benefits of informal learning are increased innovation, productivity, and knowledge transfer.
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Informal learning is collaborative by nature.