One of the main challenges for companies struggling with the concept of informal learning is figuring out who should be in charge of it. Though employees are the ones generating the content, there needs to be someone in the organization ultimately responsible for facilitating the discussions and enabling the networks.
In many companies, however, learning in general is fragmented by location or department. After all, even centralized learning organizations must customize training programs for different functional areas.
“[Informal learning has] been an area that’s slipped between the cracks because there’s no chief informal learning officer; there’s no accountability for this stuff,” said Jay Cross, CEO of Internet Time Group, a learning solutions provider. “A lot of it is just wisdom and good management, and therefore there’s a whole massive area which tends to just be random guess rather than, ‘What can we do organizationally?’”
Nick Howe, vice president of Hitachi Data Systems (HDS) Academy, said this is true at his company.
“We don’t have anybody who’s responsible for knowledge management. We don’t have anybody who’s responsible for communities. We don’t really have anybody who’s responsible for an information strategy,” he said. “And so myriad people are doing what they can to try and help their own organizations be more productive.”
For example, the IT organization assesses its learning needs and takes care of them independently, while the HR organization runs leadership development, Howe said. “It’s still a little bit fragmented even though we pull most of it together. We’ve never tried to be responsible for all learning at the company.”
But Howe is seeking to tie all their efforts together under one umbrella by speaking with senior executives from various internal functional groups, including marketing, field products, professional services and maintenance services.
“I’m reaching out to them to say, ‘Is there a better way that we can work together?’” he said.
Even with the efforts becoming centralized, however, companies still must grapple with the question of who should own informal learning.
“This isn’t an area where I think any one group can or should control things,” Howe said. “Informal learning is about peer-to-peer learning and collaboration, and I think for those organizations that are involved in providing the systems and processes to enable that, they themselves have to collaborate in order for this to be successful.”
Additionally, formal and informal learning aren’t mutually exclusive, Cross said. There is an element of flow — or in his words, “a continuum” — between them.
That means the learning organization will need to be comfortable taking on new responsibilities in this arena, while also understanding that the efforts must be entirely collaborative.
“It’s logical,” Howe said. “If the role [of chief learning officer] is defined as finding the most efficient and effective way for the employees, partners and customers of the company to gain the skills and knowledge they need to execute the business strategy, then that becomes a much, much broader scope and allows you to get into some of these other areas.”
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