Spend a week sat in close proximity to one of your best managers or sales people and you will pick up more learning than if you attended a 3 day course.
Informal learning and learning in the flow of our work forms, in my opinion at least, 80% of all of the learning that we do. This figure may be higher for some of you.
It’s eves dropping into a call that someone is making over the phone, it’s over hearing a chat that two top performers are having in a break out area or it’s that quick “Can I run something past you?” chat with a peer that creates so much learning and creativity.
What impact will remote working have on the way we learn?
During lockdown everyone overdosed on webinars. The world became full of Zoombies! Webinars were used for meetings and for virtual training.
Video chats were used for even the simplest of interactions that would have been better served with a quick phone call (remember them?)
Here at Skillshub orders of our eLearning platform, elearning content and subscriptions for online courses surged. Remote learning was the only possible solution as all physical face to face training was placed on hold.
So formal learning was all conducted online – in the main it was either a LIVE virtual course or an elearning course. You most likely learned informally if you were lucky!
Today, with many companies moving more towards remote working I’m fearful that those employees are going to miss out on all of these informal learning gems.
You just can’t buy this type of learning. It’s invaluable. That’s why I insist on having my office door open. I want my team to listen into the conversations I have with customers and suppliers. I want them to pick up on a phrase that I might use or the tonality I might adopt.
All of my senior management team have progressed through the ranks and I’ve mentored them over the years. Their progression is not all down to listening to me! But I’m sure it’s helped them over the years especially when I hear them say a phrase that I coined!
That’s why my sales teams and operations team sit in the same area. They need to work as one and understand what each other is doing. They need to pick up on all of the informal that they can from one another in their everyday interactions between themselves and with one another.
You can have all of the video chats, virtual happy hours and online chats you like but you cannot replicate the informal learning that takes place in the office.
How much learning has been lost?
After we phased our way back into the office after lockdown, I listened with glee to all of the spontaneous conversations and discussions that I heard, the ideas that were being generated and the steam that was being let off and general chit chat.
It got me thinking however; were these discussions taking place during lockdown? If so, how? And how much informal learning had been lost during the last 6 months or so of the restrictions.
It was scary to think of all of this. In my opinion it was all being lost.
During my first week back in the office I think I contributed to about 50+ different discussions where my staff would have learned something from it. And those were not direct discussions either. Junior, middle and senior staff would have all benefited from it.
How can you put a value on this? It’s priceless.
How to encourage informal learning in a remote working environment
It all comes down to interactions.
You’ve got to create the ability to interact online and then encourage it!
Communication platforms can help with this. Whatsapp, Zoom, Skype and Slack channels can all provide the mechanism to interact online. It doesn’t replace the spontaneous in-person interactions or “listening in” but it helps.
With these channels your people can share ideas, tips, issues and upload resources to help each other.
Other resources that can help include whiteboarding tools like Creately to help explain concepts, processes and strategies. Project management tools like Asana, Trello and Favro as well as document management tools like Google Drive, Google Docs and One Drive.
And of course Online Learning Platforms can become the “go to” resource for all learning. So maybe knowledge sharing discussion rooms, knowledge bases and personal learning journeys can all be kept within the platform with a social element to it to create discussion and interaction.
Think “Social Learning” instead of “Informal Learning”
It’s going to take a shift in mindset in order to try and replicate the informal learning benefits of working in an office with people.
Social learning, as the name suggests, infers that it’s going to be learning with people and involves others.
So if you think of it in this way then it’s about involvement.
Think of ways in which you can create digital learning spaces where your staff can create content, share experiences and knowledge with others. Reward staff for doing this to make it a way of life and to create the desired culture you are looking for.
These digital spaces can consist of forums where your people can mix and mingle together both formally and informally. Work on action learning sets together and discuss key concepts covered and learned.
Role modelling in a virtual world is tough. The bottom line is that when you spend time together, you learn together. You’re more creative and can bounce ideas off each other more quickly than the annoying over talking that happens when you’re on a video conference.
So think of ways in which you can make learning more social and you’ll create more informal learning opportunities in the process.
Sean is the CEO of Skillshub. He’s a published author and has been featured on CNN, BBC and ITV as a leading authority in the learning and development industry. Sean is responsible for the vision and strategy at Skillshub, helping to ensure innovation within the company.