I received a number of follow-up questions to an earlier column titled “The Five Myths of Informal Learning.” The two most common were “How do I get my company to buy into informal learning,” and “Where should we begin?”
Informal learning is one of those rare concepts all leaders understand when they first hear it but have a hard time applying in their organizations. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most common is that people have been using informal learning for most of their professional lives, so they don’t see a reason to pay for or dedicate resources to it.
That’s why I’ve always made a distinction between informal learning and performance support (PS). Informal learning is the unstructured, free-flowing moments when we bother a peer with a question, Google a quick topic or share a story with a colleague over lunch. It’s just there, and always will be there.
PS, on the other hand, is a structured and intentional approach designed to optimize performance at the moment of need. When used correctly, PS can reduce need for formal learning by up to 75 percent, depending on the content. PS is that unique learning that can actually save dollars and resources while creating a return on instruction at a level the learning industry has been asked to produce for a long time.
So, back to the original questions: Where to start and how to gain traction? It’s all in the first project. Sometimes it can start in the most unsuspected way with what appears to be a small, below-the-radar effort. PS should be introduced in a strategic and intentional way. That’s not to say the project itself should be categorized as strategic; rather, the learning group’s approach should be.
Here are five criteria to consider when selecting that first project:
Audience: Understand the learners you are about to support. Select a department you work with frequently and have a strong relationship with, especially the leaders. Are they risk takers? Are they flexible if the project doesn’t go exactly as planned? Will they provide access to learners so you can train them on the PS tool or approach appropriately? Will you have access to them throughout the rollout to gauge success? Once successful, use testimonials and metrics to build momentum for future projects and less-receptive audiences.
Criticality of the project: When you’re starting out, be careful not to select too critical a project. Many will be watching. You want this project to be within your locus of control if things don’t go well. Once you gain some momentum you can attempt larger projects. For now, keep it under control.
Amount of existing content: PS is at its best when it leverages existing learning assets. Your department will have enough to juggle without creating a lot of new content. The more you can reuse the better. If you can work with existing content you can take some development off your plate. It will also make blending easier since this type of content will leverage an already credible and well-established learning program.
Timing: The program’s release can be critical to its success and sustainability. The ideal window is between three to six months. You don’t want to put undue pressure on yourself by setting unrealistic milestones on your first project. At the same time, you don’t want it to be over-engineered and take eight to 12 months to release.
Context: Context has two meanings. First, the degree to which content has business relevancy. The first project should have a pre-existing and well-vetted workflow. Second, will the PS tools you develop be contextual? For instance, because of their technical nature most successful first projects are IT related. In this case you will need to be sure the technology can be integrated with your content.
A successful first PS project can create a tremendous amount of buy-in and lead to other more powerful and sustainable programs. Learning organizations that find ways to integrate PS into their offerings position themselves as strategic, highly impactful business partners.
Bob Mosher is global chief learning and strategy evangelist for LearningGuide Solutions and has been an influential leader in the IT training space for more than 15 years. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.
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