By Shelley A. Gable
How did most of your workplace learning occur over the past year?
Much of my learning came from brainstorming with peers, participating in online forums, reading (articles, books, blogs, etc.), observation, experimentation, trial and error...and, of course, reflection.
Do you have a similar story of unstructured, experiential, informal learning?
Jay Cross, known for his informal learning research, tells us that approximately 80% of workplace learning occurs informally. In contrast, only 20% of organizations’ learning budgets go toward enhancing informal learning.
Does this suggest that organizations are missing an opportunity to take learning to the next level?
And can eLearning become part of an investment in informal learning?
I think Ray Jimenez (among several others, I’m sure), would say yes. He was on to something with his 3-minute eLearning methodology.
The idea is to offer short, focused snippets of instruction. If it takes a few minutes to complete, then it feels easy to access in the flow of work...or between tasks or meetings. Compare that to making time to complete a 1-hour lesson.
How might this work?
We could make short eLearning lessons available as a supplement to new employee training, or any other formal course. The formal course builds the foundational knowledge and skills required for the job, with short eLearning lessons available to help people advance their skills later.
Short eLearning lessons could also complement electronic job aids or a knowledge management site. While a job aid might outline a procedure and provide guidance for decision-making, optional eLearning might offer conceptual background, examples, or short practice opportunities to help people confirm understanding.
Do Gagne’s nine events fit in?
Probably...though not necessarily in the eLearning lesson itself.
A 5-minute eLearning lesson is unlikely to work through all nine events in a meaningful way. But, if eLearning is just one part of an informal learning experience, then learners will probably experience those events through other means.
For instance, if I’m seeking information about something, the informal learning experience already: (1) has my attention, (2) is aimed at some objective, and (3) has probably prompted me to recall prior knowledge, which likely led me to the point where I’m encountering the short eLearning lesson and deciding whether to complete it.
A combination of job aids, short eLearning lessons, and other available resources might present content and provide learning guidance. And chances are, I’ll apply my learning to my job...and hopefully receive some form of feedback.
But that’s just one way the pieces might come together.
If an eLearning lesson offers background or conceptual information to help a job aid make sense, the lesson’s role might be to stimulate recall and present content.
If the lesson shares examples, scenarios, demonstrations, or stories that help convey tacit knowledge about a concept or task, then the lesson’s role would align more with guiding learning.
Or, if a lesson provides quick practice opportunities to help learners ensure that they’re correctly understanding something new, then perhaps its role is to elicit performance and provide feedback.
Are you doing this?
Once you start thinking about it, there are numerous ways eLearning can enhance informal workplace learning. Do you have examples you can share? Or challenges you’ve encountered?