Bridging the Formal and Informal Learning Gap

Arun Prakash

HRIQ speaks with Arun Prakash, Executive Vice President for InfoPro Learning, Inc. to discuss providing a structured approach to informal learning and making it measurable.

In your experience, where does traditional corporate learning lack in fulfilling the needs of an organization?

Assuming the word "traditional" includes technology-based training and encapsulates formats of eLearning apart from stand-up classroom training or live instructor-led sessions, I would then re-phrase them as "formal" training leading to "formal" learning.

Research shows that this formal training, including "refresher" training, contributes to only 20 percent of learning at best. The remaining 80 percent of learning is achieved through "informal," methods and is totally dependent on the individual, the opportunities that come his or her way, and how fast he or she grasps the 80 percent. This time-consuming process, apart from restricting organizational knowledge into limited pockets (such as few old employees), makes it difficult for organizations to get new hires and difficult for less experienced resources to acquire organizational knowledge and become productive. This gap, I believe, is one of the key areas that corporations need to focus on.

So, how do people actually learn?

Tons of research and more than 4000 years of experience give us insight into how people learn. Social interactions, including emulating those we look up to, friends and peers who we generally interact with, and from human societies (including organizational ecosystems) have been some of the primary methods of learning. An old Chinese proverb says, "Walking ten thousand miles of world is better than reading ten thousand scrolls of books". Cut to today— "online social or collaborative learning" is the way to go!

Is there a way to formalize this process and give it more structure?

Whoever named this process "informal" learning was smart, as formalizing this learning is not easy. There have been many attempts of formalizing the same, but after that moment it is no longer informal learning: it defeats the purpose and fails. However, what could be done is to attempt to bridge the gap between formal and informal learning to the greatest extent possible. In other words: leave the individuals in their natural habitat of informal learning and find how well they are doing in that habitat by using unobtrusive means. Though not very easy, there are ways to identify and implement these means depending on the situation.

One way is to use commonly available Web 2.0 features, integrate them smartly into an environment which is conducive for learning, connect them with formal learning, and provide all tools and job-aids to enhance the learning experience. We use such a platform which achieves this connect to a large extent.

How does this type of platform make learning measurable?

At our organization, it silently but intelligently tracks an individual’s activities and scores the individual’s professional influence in an informal environment. It throws out a Thought Leadership Index (TLI). This TLI can be used for incentivizing thought leaders and encouraging the tacit pockets of expertise to become more visible and accessible to the organization at large.

Does this at all compromise the integrity of traditional forms of training?

I don’t think so. The formal means of training are necessary to form structured knowledge models and neural models, which become enablers to successfully perform in an unstructured informal learning environment –online or otherwise.