Imagine that you’ve just bought a fancy new car. Now imagine that instead of driving the car, you just push it around everywhere. The end result is the same – you get to where you’re going – but you’ve just expended an extraordinary amount of energy when there was a more efficient solution right there at your fingertips. That might sound like a wacky premise – and it is – but we need to use such a crazy simile to illustrate an equally ridiculous scenario.
As we’ve discussed in the past, formal learning accounts for only 10% of what people learn. As for the rest, we learn 20% from observing others and 70% from on-the-job experience. While formal learning is great for instilling the essential concepts of your training, it’s both inefficient and short-sighted to rely on it as your sole method of training. Luckily, there’s a whole other mine full of learning gold just crying out to be tapped. We’re talking, of course, about informal learning and if you haven’t yet heard of it… you’d better sit down!
What is Informal Learning?
As you might have guessed, informal learning covers everything that happens outside of formal learning structure. Not only does it account for the vast majority of learning, it’s also a whole lot more human-friendly. You see, as useful as formal learning is for training people to the same level, it does demand a lot of effort from learners. We’re not that good at remembering what we read, and only slightly better at learning from what we see and hear. On the other hand, when it comes to doing practical tasks we’re able to remember between 70% and 80% of what we learn, especially when we do it with other people.
Now we’re getting to the pulsing core of informal learning – if you want to get the most from it, you need to add a social element. Once you have that, then you can wield a Swiss Army knife of other learning tools. You have a network of learners ready to support each other, give encouragement when it’s needed and praise when it’s deserved. It might seem like such a little thing, but you’d be surprised how far a little recognition will go.
You can also take advantage of the natural human urge to be better than everyone else. Competition can be a powerful force and that’s no less evident in the realm of learning. After all, learning for your own improvement is okay, but isn’t it much more fun to lord your success over other people?
If you’re serious about unlocking the potential of informal learning, you need to realise that every learner is different. We all have different skillsets and we’re not all interested in the same things. To get the most from people, you need to provide a learning environment that allows them to develop in their own preferred fields. True, it may require a little effort to track learners’ individual needs and preferences, but the payback is immense. If you match a learner’s professional development to their individual skills and interests, you’ll end up with a team of specialists who are not only good at their jobs, but they’re more than happy to do them.
You could go out of your way and invest a lot of time personally monitoring everyone on a one-to-one basis, but let’s be honest – there aren’t enough hours in the day. There is, however, another solution.
Want to find out? Why not download our 70-20-10 guidebook?