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9 Strategies to Encourage and Drive Informal Learning in a Remote Working Environment

September 2, 2020 | By Asha Pandey


9 Strategies to Encourage and Drive Informal Learning in a Remote Working Environment

Humans learn a lot informally. In fact, this is a significant way how we learned as children. In this article, you will learn how to leverage informal learning in today’s remote working environment to drive creativity, innovation, and engagement.

What Is Informal Learning?

There’s been a lot of discussion about informal learning over the years – what it is and isn’t and its place in corporate training. As corporate training departments are scrambling to deal with the implications of a remote working environment, the importance of informal learning is again at the forefront.

Informal learning differs from formal learning in the following ways:

Formal learning is usually mandated by an organization or regulations. It takes place in structured eLearning courses, face-to-face or virtual classrooms, or as a blend.

Informal learning, in contrast, happens organically. It is an extension of the way all of us have been learning informally since childhood. It is self-directed and self-motivated and is usually done in situ. It supports performance when it’s needed.

Why Should Leaders and L&D Teams Care About Informal Learning?

Informal learning provides significant benefits and value for individuals, teams, and corporations:

  1. Informal learning drives collaboration. Employees organically seek out and create bonds within and without teams, breaking down silos.
  2. Within the intersection of creativity and collaboration is where innovation occurs.
  3. Informal learning is driven by the learners and is focused on exactly what they want, exactly when they need it.
  4. Adults find more fulfillment and intrinsic rewards through informal learning.
  5. Informal learning tends to stick better. Learners create mental constructs within which new information is effectively stored in the long-term memory.
  6. While it’s often overlooked by corporate training teams because it’s outside their control, informal learning doesn’t require formal L&D direction, design, or development.
  7. Organizations with a strong culture of learning benefit from greater creativity.

What Are the Challenges of Promoting Informal Learning in a Remote Workplace?

Unfortunately, some L&D departments ignore informal learning because it’s difficult to measure its impact.

Additionally, a remote working environment has accentuated information silos and scattered tacit organizational knowledge, increasing the risk that distributed teams aren’t equipped to proactively share knowledge. Some workers, especially those who are used to traditional face-to-face communication, are more hesitant to remotely contact a coworker.

However, it’s important that leaders and L&D departments acknowledge and face those challenges head-on.

How Can You Drive Informal Learning in a Remote Working Environment?

There are several things that L&D departments can do to drive informal learning.

  1. Peter Drucker, the famous management consultant, is credited with saying “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Therefore, it’s vital to create a culture of learning built on the foundation of autonomy, purpose, and mastery (explained by Daniel Pink in his book, “Drive”). Employees who find these three things at work will proactively seek informal learning
    1. Most people are driven to reach for a mastery of their profession.
    2. Truly engaged employees find purpose in the work they do.
    3. Many workers have a newly discovered sense of autonomy.
  2. Create a digital social learning space where employees can ask questions, give feedback, and curate content and ideas.
    1. Leaders should model constructive behavior by participating and encouraging others.
    2. L&D departments can reward constructive behavior and participation.
    3. Schedule focused chat and idea exchanges, leveraging things like hashtags.
    4. Establish rules so employees refrain from typical social media behavior, like contentious arguments or banal conversations.
  3. Provide semi-structured forums where coworkers can virtually mingle.
  4. Create pre-course preparation materials like interactive PDFs that summarize foundational information required for formal courses.
  5. Leverage content that’s been granularized into bite-sized pieces – otherwise known as Microlearning.
  6. Source other digital learning solutions and facilitate access to tools such as:
    1. LinkedIn Learning.
    2. Udemy.
    3. Pluralsight.
    4. Blinkist and getAbstract.
    5. Industry-related journals.
  7. Encourage reading by facilitating the creation of virtual book clubs. The 33rd president of the United States, Harry Truman, said “Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
  8. Create mentor and coaching
    1. Coaching and mentoring are a great way to augment formal training.
    2. Match training participants in short-term coaching relationships.
    3. Identify high-potential employees and match them with mentors to help prepare for their future roles.
  9. Facilitate informal, small groups and one-on-one virtual interactions.
    1. Encourage participants to opt for live video calls.
    2. Remind participants that in the current age of remote working environments, we need to forgive dogs in the background and hair that’s not perfectly quaffed.

Informal learning, while sometimes difficult to measure and seems like it’s outside the control of the corporate L&D department, is more vital now than ever in remote working environments. Hope this article gives you compelling reasons and measures to help as you seek to unlock its potential.

This article was first published in Training Industry.

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