Learning in the modern workplace: the value of informal learning libraries

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Formal learning and informal learning. Both have their place in an effective blended learning strategy, but when informal learning is neither as structured nor as prescriptive as its formal counterpart, how can we harness its benefits to create a continuous learning culture? And where do we begin to look for informal learning opportunities?

Why is Informal Learning so Important?

According to the 70:20:10 theory, informal learning accounts for 90% of the learning journey. If this seems overwhelming at first, let’s start by taking a look at why informal and learner-led learning should have a significant place in your L&D strategy. Some of the key benefits include:

  • Learning that takes place in any place, at any time – Informal learning can happen while tapping on your phone, chatting with a colleague over coffee, or when watching an advert. This method of learning has no limits.
  • Reduced costs – Informal learning is cheaper to create. It is easier to utilise existing, relevant assets from within the organisation than start from scratch. The result? More money saved and maximum return on investment (ROI).
  • Greater motivation and engagement – Learning can take place naturally without it being a forced behaviour. When the learner is in control of their own journey, it creates a greater sense of engagement.
  • Individual knowledge and skills gaps can be targeted – Learners can identify and address any areas for improvement and focus on specific content to bridge any skills gaps.

If you think about it, we are constantly learning informally. Imagine you’re about to purchase a new laptop for work. You need this laptop to be lightweight but with good storage capacity and a long-lasting battery. You don’t really need anything that’s super-speedy or with great capability for gaming, so you know roughly what you’re after. However, you’ll need to do some research first. How do you collect this information? Perhaps you’ll ask what your friends and colleagues are using and see what they recommend. You might read some reviews or watch videos online. You might also pop into a computer store and see what they suggest (then either buy something there and then, or note down particular models to conduct further self-directed research). All of these actions would have armed you with the knowledge you were looking for – this forms the basis of social constructivism and demonstrates informal learning in action. It’s something we do naturally, so adopting it in a workplace environment makes perfect sense.

Research by Deloitte

reveals that employees are accessing information and learning differently than they did only a few years ago, and are increasingly looking outside of traditional training and development channels. They are far more likely to turn to their smartphones to look for answers to unexpected problems, and a staggering 70% of them are making greater use of search engines to learn what they need for their jobs. What this tells us is that the time-poor modern learner requires access to information in a way that’s untethered and on-demand. Traditional learning still has its place, but we increasingly need to think outside the box.

According to Jane Hart of the Centre for Modern Workplace Learning, informal learning is about “empowering learners to make their own choices, but also ensuring they take personal responsibility for what they choose to do and how they choose to do it”. In other words, we need to put today’s learner in the driving seat.

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How Can an Informal Learning Library Help?

Videos, online courses, discussions, talks, apps, articles…where do we begin? How can we pinpoint the content that’s useful and relevant, without losing great chunks of time sifting through the possibilities?

Cue the informal learning library. Sometimes referred to as a knowledge bank, content repository or digital resource library, it serves as a facilitator in organising and providing the relevant knowledge on-demand.

An informal learning library is built upon the idea of sharing knowledge and information, which in turn encourages collaboration between learners. It creates a hub whereby all of the training tools and resources can be curated by subject matter experts and encourages organic growth of ‘good’ content. This in turn saves the learner any time that would otherwise be spent searching for that content online themselves.

“Most great learning happens in groups – collaboration is the stuff of growth.” – Sir Ken Robinson

Our Thinqi platform is the perfect example of how an informal learning library can help you to overcome the challenges of curating and sharing learning content in a way that encourages collaboration. As noted in a previous blog post, the challenge of independent e-learning is isolation, so our learning platform technology gives its users access to a community of learners, enabling them to share, reflect and discuss using communication tools such as forums, comment threads and real-time chat facilities.

Take Thinqi’s ‘Networks’ function, for example. Networks can allow users to collaborate regardless of geographical location. Here they can share and comment on resources, engage in discussions and share what we call ‘Playlists’ – a feature that allows users to bring content from different sources together quickly and easily, combining them into a single piece of learning content. This is achieved through an easy-to-use search function and a simple drag and drop tool, meaning that anyone can become a curator of their own knowledge. No need to worry about losing that gem of an article – add it to a Playlist or simply bookmark it and it’s there for future reference, whenever it’s needed.

Have you ever read an article that proved invaluable and you’ve wanted to find similar content? Look no further than ‘tags’. Thanks to social media, you’re probably familiar with the concept of tagging certain topics or themes to aggregate related content. In the same way, tagging an article in Thinqi allows a learner to click on the relevant tag from a useful article, providing them with a Smartie-trail of useful related resources and areas of the curriculum.

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But that’s not all. How can you make sure the good quality content stands out? How can you encourage learner feedback on resources? Additional features such as ‘ratings’ can help to pinpoint good quality content. Over time, as the library grows organically and metadata accumulates, the value of the library increases. What does this mean for your organisation?

It means money saved, increased productivity, and maximisation of ROI. And for the learner?

Engagement, empowerment and learning that works.

If you would like to learn more about how our cutting-edge modern learning platform can help you with both your formal and informal learning opportunities, we've got the tools and expertise to help you succeed. Request a demo to arrange to speak to one of our experts.

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