As teachers like to mention, learning is lifelong. And this does not stop when one enters the working world as well. Attending workshops, conferences and networking sessions are a great way to learn from industry peers as well as broaden one’s horizons. However, from an organisation’s point of view, such learning and development initiatives can be costly. Worst is when it does not add value to employees.
When it comes to setting training budgets, there is no denying that it ranks low on your top management’s list of priorities. However, that does not mean that your employees should be deprived of learning and development opportunities. In fact, there are other ways in which your employees can still pick up new skills – broadly classified as informal learning.
Based on the definition provided by Training Industry, informal learning is defined as “learning that occurs away from a structured, formal classroom environment”. It could come in numerous forms – self-studying, reading articles, participating in forums such as TED talks or attending coaching sessions. Essentially, informal learning encourages employees to set their own learning goals and objectives.
On the plus side of informal learning
The plus side of informal learning that it provides the flexibility that employees need. After all, every individual learns at a different pace and have different ways to absorb information. Instead of having a one-approach-fits-all, organisations can consider provide a suite of learning and development initiatives. Employees can then pick and sign up for courses that they are interested in or attending webinars or conferences that might appeal to them. That way, instead of having to wait for seminars or workshops to be arranged by the HR department, employees can simply search for what really interests them and just go for it.
On the down side of informal learning
Why informal learning may get a bad rep within certain organisations is due to it falling short of its potential. Given that informal learning means that employees are largely responsible for their own learning and development, it may easily slip to the bottom of their to-do list within the pressure of daily tasks and workload. At the same time, while it is easy to offer a plethora of online courses or events that employees can sign up for, do they actually know what they need? Employees might tend to stay within their comfort zone and sign up for courses or read content that they are familiar with.
Nonetheless, there are ways in which both organisations and employees can avoid such pitfalls. Providing employees with helpful sources to trusted and useful learning content is a great way to direct employees towards somewhere to begin their own learning path. At the same time, top management and leaders should encourage employees to share their favourite content or course so that other employees could benefit as well. It is also imperative for organisations to build a learning culture whereby managers and employees are aware that their learning choices will be supported by allowing time away from work to attend these learning and development courses.
With the slew of online courses, podcasts and vlogs (video blogs), learning is no longer limited to a classroom setting or a four-walled seminar room. Learning within the workplace is also now a two-way process, whereby both seniors and juniors share their experiences and mentor each other. These are some of the success factors for learning and development in organisations today.
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