Despite growing recognition of the important role informal learning plays in organizations, many CLOs do not track its use and integrate it with formal learning and development.
A majority (74 percent) of learning executives surveyed indicated they do not track informal learning in their organizations, according to a report analyzing survey data from the Chief Learning Officer Business Intelligence Board (BIB) released this week.
In March, the editors of Chief Learning Officer surveyed the BIB, a group of nearly 1,500 professionals in the learning and development industry, to assess and benchmark informal learning practices. The full analysis of the results was released Monday in “Focus on Informal Learning,” a Chief Learning Officer report.
Generally speaking, informal learning refers to the many forms of learning or knowledge acquisition that take place independent of formal, instructor-led programs. Examples include self-study programs, performance support systems and even a phone call to a co-worker with content expertise. Technology development has opened up new avenues for informal learning, including instant messaging and collaboration on wikis and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
Recognition of the role that informal learning plays in employee development has increased over the last decade and continues to gain momentum. Going back as far as 1999, a study conducted by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics identified that workers learn 70 percent of what they know about their jobs informally.
While many CLOs indicated that they do not track informal learning, a significant majority said informal learning experiences are essential to either organizational or individual success. Ninety-three percent of BIB members surveyed said that informal learning experiences were essential.
When asked about formal learning, a similar number (96 percent) indicated that formal learning experiences are essential to either organizational or individual success, indicating that BIB members place equal importance on both forms of learning.
While most recognize the importance of both formal and informal learning, many struggle to manage informal learning and bring it together with formal learning in an integrated development strategy. Only 11 percent of BIB members reported that their organization has a comprehensive strategy in place to facilitate and support informal learning. Almost half (47 percent) reported that they have ad hoc solutions in place but no strategy, and 37 percent responded that they have no solutions and no strategy in place.
According to BIB survey data, informal learning will continue to grow in importance. Fifty-nine percent indicated that there will be increased or significantly increased support for it, while 38 percent indicated support for informal learning will remain about the same.
But as the gap between the percentage who believe it is important and the percentage who track it indicates, integrating informal learning into an overall learning strategy remains a challenge. There are various reasons. More than a quarter (26 percent) of BIB members said informal learning is too hard to measure and show return on investment. Twenty-two percent said the corporate culture hinders the flow of information essential to optimizing informal learning.
Despite these challenges, many organizations indicate that informal learning will continue to play an important, and growing, role in their learning and development strategy. How they do it largely remains to be seen.