In the past, and perhaps even still, at some organizations, learning is designed to push the agenda of HR or compliance. That typically means instructor-led classes in a formal setting, an e-learning course on an unappealing topic, or training on a new tool.
But, if we take a step back and look at how these methods and themes compare to what our learners actually want, and how they naturally behave in 2017, there is likely a disconnect.
How do I know? We asked the workforce of numerous organizations what and how they are learning for work. We heard back from people at varying levels of expertise and hierarchy – 512 of them, to be exact.
We learned a lot. Employees follow the path of least resistance, and gravitate toward solutions that are quick and easy. As a result, informal options (social and on-demand learning) account for the bulk of employees’ development. Just how much? Nearly 50 percent of people told us they search the internet, and 43 percent browse specific resources online when they need to learn something new for work.
That’s not to say that formal is obsolete, because 70 percent told us they take live, virtual or e-learning courses at least once a year.
What all of this tells us is that people are progressing every day, from a variety of sources. And they want to grow; 75 percent invested their own money (an average of $339) in career-related development over the last 12 months.
The most effective learning leaders are recognizing that they need both formal training and informal learning experiences, and that giving people an environment built around their needs as a learner will drive more learning activity.
Facilitating a continuous learning environment has benefits greater than just the L&D team. Xilinx found that when learning was exciting and easy to obtain, employees were more engaged and productive – a metric even other businesses could get behind.
It might come as a surprise, but employee engagement is nearly as important as the bottom line. Research from Gallup tied engaged employees to better customer ratings, productivity, sales and higher profitability. But only 13 percent of employees worldwide are engaged at work.
This means lots of waste. We know creating learning is time-consuming and expensive. When 87 percent of your learner’s aren’t engaged, wasted time, money and effort add up fast – to the tune of more than $24 million a year for every 10,000 employees for a typical Fortune 500 company, according to CEB.
Knowing that learning and growth opportunities are now directly tied to an organization’s employment brand, and that the majority of learning is done informally, how can organizations put more emphasis and find more value in informal learning?
1. Make sense of the chaos with curation.
There is both an art and science to curation. At the most basic level, it means getting the right content to the right people at the right time. But for the curator, it’s the ability to find, assemble and filter the best quality resources into a relevant learning experience.
Curation empowers L&D teams in two ways: 1) the ability to produce more diverse learning options and modalities, and 2) saves money by reducing the need for creating costly formal training for each business need.
There are many ways to curate. It can be as simple as creating a document or pathway with the most relevant resources on a certain subject. Bookmarks on web browsers can serve as a “top hits” list. And, at many organizations, it’s the L&D department centralizing the best resources in a few (hopefully less) places.
But more sophisticated organizations are sharing the curating responsibility with the learners. These organizations provide resources, but they also empower employees to discover and collect the best resources themselves. After all, as the data above tells us, the workforce is the one inundated with content from a variety of sources. Who better to advise on what serves their needs best?
It’s important to note that curation applies to more than just content, like articles, videos, etc. Curation also applies to human interactions, like discussions with peers or mentors. And don’t forget the third type of curation: system-based recommendations. Think of Amazon’s, “you might like this too,” or Netflix’s, “because you watched this.” These are all ways to put the most relevant learning for each individual in front of the other resources.
2. Recognize and track all learning.
The key to empowering your learners and increasing engagement is recognizing, facilitating and measuring what’s happening in-between the formal learning settings. This includes all the informal learning that is happening, whether it be reading an article, a conversation with a mentor or peer, attending an event or taking a course.
Because so much learning takes place informally, the majority is happening outside the view or control of L&D. Tracking all learning allows organizations to see what topics are of interest to workers, the organic growth and skill development happening with employees, ability to determine themes that need more formal attention, find unknown SMEs, and maybe even make better learning investments based on the most popular sources of content.
So, what should you track?
Oftentimes, there is still a need to know what has been consumed. But, Steve Boucher, vice president of global talent development for operations and technology at Mastercard, stunned listeners when he revealed that completions aren’t one of his KPIs; he is more worried about increased capability. No matter how it happens, your learners are learning. The better measures of learning are using metrics such as usage, recommendations to others and impact seen by the employee’s manager, as well as employee retention.
Having this data also allows organizations to personalize the experience, to automate recommendations and to connect learning to people’s growth.
3. Facilitate social and collaborative learning experiences, too.
Learning today starts with social and search. Degreed research found that when workers need to learn something new, they are most likely to ask their boss, mentor (69 percent) or their colleagues (55 percent) for direction first. Then they take matters into their own hands. Almost half said they search the internet, and 43 percent browse specific resources online.
According to the 2015 Bersin Corporate Learning Factbook, the best L&D organizations are already delivering up to 13 percent more via coaching and collaboration.
The most forward-thinking organizations make all that self-driven learning more meaningful by being complimentary: engineering useful connections and interactions, giving real-time feedback and coaching, and providing tools that make the experience seamless and learner-driven.
These things are easier said than done, no doubt. Saying you value informal learning means more than making a course available on a mobile device. It’s about building a culture that values learning from all sources, supported by an environment that treats the learner like a customer and makes the entire L&D experience smoother, more useful and more rewarding.