Last week a colleague came to my desk for assistance with a video editing tool. While showing him how to produce a video, I commented on his busy Desktop and that he should tidy it up for demonstrations. “Oh that’s easy,” he said, “Check this out” and took control of the mouse right-clicked on the Desktop and disabled the Show Desktop Icons option. Boom. It was like shoving all your toys under the bed when your mom told you to clean your room.
In a matter of a few minutes, my colleague learnt how to produce the video in the required format and I learnt a tip for hiding my Desktop icons. This is informal learning in action. There are numerous definitions of what informal learning really is but to quote Jay Cross, an expert in Informal Learning, “Informal learning is like riding a bicycle: the rider chooses the destination and the route. The cyclist can take a detour at a moment’s notice to admire the scenery or help a fellow rider.” From his analogy you can see that informal learning is self-directed, incidental and social. It takes place outside a classroom setting and curriculum.
So why am I writing about this? Informal learning means that learning can take place without the constraints of formal learning such as an available instructor and a classroom which takes you out of the working environment. It can assist employees with staying up-to-date in the fast changing environment and keep them relevant. At SYSPRO we have a number of ways we foster informal learning which you could apply to your organization, these include:
- Open access to the internet – we encourage employees to research and learn by watching videos in YouTube or subscribing to Lynda.com courses (which are free)
- Forums – probably the most valuable area for informal learning, we have set up both internal and external forums
- Yammer – provides a social network in the workplace whereby you can follow subject matter experts, share files and knowledge
- Microsoft Lync Instant Messaging – this is often used for quick questions and answers and allows video-conferencing, so you don’t even need to be in the same room.
Companies should be encouraging this form of learning, not only for an employee’s personal and professional development, but also to ensure a workforce that is forever educated.