Why Your Company Needs Informal Learning And How To Implement It In 5 Steps

Why Your Company Needs Informal Learning And How To Implement It In 5 Steps
Summary: Learning leaders can't afford to ignore the rise of informal/social learning as a learning preference. How can you effectively leverage these trends to impact your learning programs?

Leveraging The Experts Already On Your Team

"So, I saw this video on TikTok ..." It’s almost embarrassing how many times a week I say this at work (about work topics, of course)...and I’m not the only one! "There’s this podcast that always hits the mark. The episodes aren’t long, but there’s always something I can’t wait to implement. You have to check it out!" If the rise of TikTok and other social media platforms are any indicator, people in all walks of life have come to enjoy creating and consuming informal learning content. And it’s not all lip-syncing and dancing either! Professionals in every industry are taking to these platforms to share tips, tricks, and educational anecdotes from their experiences in their fields. Chances are good that your employees watch these types of content creators, and some may even be creating industry-related content of their own.

That’s right: even employees who may not be fond of formal training may be intrigued enough by these community-sourced pieces of content to watch/listen and learn from them—voluntarily and off the clock! That’s some serious power, and it’s something learning professionals can’t afford to ignore if we want to keep up with what our audiences actually want. Why and how should you be leveraging informal learning strategies within your company? So glad you asked...

Why You Should Leverage Informal Learning Strategies

1. Improve Learner Engagement

As mentioned above, short community-sourced learning content has an automatic appeal, as evidenced by the popularity of industry-specific accounts on any given platform (hello, #careertok). Here are some of the reasons we believe informal learning gets so much engagement:

  • Shorter, snack-sized content
    The need to create bite-sized content to fit our learners' busy schedules and short attention spans likely comes as no surprise to you; microlearning has been a buzzword in our industry for a while for a reason. Whether it’s a candy bar or a learning opportunity, nobody says no to snack-sized!
  • Conversation or lecture?
    You can likely think of a time when a peer stopped by your desk and shared a new way they’d learned to do something or gave you a tip that had a huge positive impact on your experience at work. I bet that made a bigger impact on you than the formal eLearning "how to do XYZ in the system" module. Informal learning feels more like these conversational moments than a lecture in a classroom. This relational aspect can make voluntary learner engagement more likely.
  • Be authentic
    A huge cultural trend right now is embracing authenticity and not sugar-coating real life. Informal learning is the perfect way to embrace this. My cat jumped on the back of my chair while I was recording a short video about coaching for our sales team, and I didn’t cut it out. I just said, "Otis says hi," and rolled on. These moments (as long as they’re not excessive) don’t detract from the learning but create a moment of connection.
  • Stories make learning "sticky"
    Informal learning often includes personal anecdotes, weaving in an element of storytelling. Phrases like "I remember a time when ..." cause most people to perk up their ears in the hopes of being told a story. Our brains are wired to latch on to stories! This is the reason mnemonic story methods are so effective at helping us remember information. Informal learning can use this human affinity for stories to make learning stick.
  • Use humor to create connection and energy
    Have you ever seen a TikTok with the Pure Imagination parody song "In a World of OSHA Violations"? If you have, I bet you sang along with that line! What if you used that audio in an intro to a safety course? Seems like a fun intro to a pretty weighty topic! Creating connections with our learners, and energy in our classrooms, is critical to success. Humor is a great way to do this.­­­­­­­­

Quick note: formal learning has a meaningful time and place. A high degree of structure and excellent production values should absolutely go into your formal learning plan. This is why we love taking a blended and hybrid approach in our programs.

2. Build Community

You could go the route of using actors in your content. But, if you do, you’ll be missing out on a huge upside to community-sourced content: the faces in your content are real coworkers your employees know and respect. This recognition and authenticity can remove one more barrier to voluntary engagement.

Another perk? You may end up with a content-creation snowball! People like recognition and the opportunity to be seen and heard. The more they see their fellow coworkers featured, the more they may want to participate as both a learner and as a content creator. If you have been wanting to foster a collaborative and helpful company culture—a culture of voluntary mentors and learners—implementing a welcoming, community-sourced informal learning plan may be just the thing.

But how complicated will it be to launch informal learning in your company? Good news: it’s not rocket science. In fact, it doesn’t even come close...

5 Simple Steps To Introduce Informal Learning To Your Organization

Informal learning is a broad concept. For the sake of simplifying this concept into actionable steps, let’s talk about a straightforward strategy, leveraging candid video or audio, that you could start tomorrow.

1. Identify Your Content And Your Champions

What is at the top of mind at your company right now? What program are you currently developing? Start there. Who has a reputation within your company as having the experience to be credible and the charisma to be interesting? Maybe several names come to mind right away, or perhaps you put it to a vote to see who your employees identify. These are the people you want to be the champions—the stars, if you will—of your informal learning content.

The exact number you recruit is up to you, but our favorite content creation method (and the one we’re detailing here) relies on having more than one champion, so we recommend looking for several. Another benefit to having more than one person appear in the content you create is that if someone leaves the company or is promoted and is no longer available, you have additional familiar faces to carry on. Don’t forget: including diverse genders, races, ages, etc., goes a long way in making your content truly relatable and your employees feel seen and heard.

2. Pose A Few Questions

Though you can ask your champions to create a few short videos, we find that a lot of people we’ve worked with in the past get analysis paralysis and try to make things too perfect. By creating questions and making it a dialogue, the content we get is much more authentic and it breaks the ice on content creation.

So, compile a list of questions to ask your champions and record their answers (whether video or audio recording). Ask each of them the same set of questions and encourage a conversational style of response. You may be surprised at how their answers align or don’t align with the points you were planning on making. And don’t be afraid to have fun! Remember, if it’s learning that feels like entertainment, your voluntary engagement is likely to skyrocket. Got a long-winded champion? That’s not a bad thing...you can save every bit of excess content for future repurposing. It’s easier to edit down a long, charismatic response than to try to engage learners with terse, single-sentence statements.

Next, you’ll splice together your champions’ answers with simple video/audio editing software. Keep overall length in mind—shorter is better! If you end up with enough gold to make an hour-long video, organize it into multiple bite-sized pieces instead. Maybe each of your interview questions just became its own short video featuring the gold from each champion’s response. Now you have a whole series to release. Congratulations! You’ve just unlocked batching your content creation!

3. Release Internally

How, when, and where you release this new informal learning content is up to you. Are you in the middle of developing formal eLearning? You can weave your clips into your eLearning to add a storytelling element, or as a unique, relevant way to introduce the topic. Or you can add a clip to an instructor-led training. We know that involving multiple voices and sources within learning enhances attention and credibility in your messaging.

Maybe you’re looking at this as a reinforcement strategy, or as a way to encourage your social learning strategies. In that case, you can make it a regularly scheduled occurrence (monthly, weekly, etc.) for the greatest impact. Make the publishing schedule known, and you’ll know you’ve hit the mark when you overhear people anticipating the next release.

How should you distribute it? Consider how your teams already communicate and congregate. Do you use Slack? Microsoft Teams? Something in-house? An LMS? The "general"/"random" channel or an internal blog could be the perfect place to share informal learning content and get people talking. Do you mostly rely on in-person team meetings? Debut a new informal learning video as part of a team meeting but be sure to keep an accessible archive of them available, so your learners can rewatch or share internally.

4. Integrate With Your Formal Learning Plan

By far, our favorite way to use informal learning is in close conjunction with a formal learning plan. Use informal video in your formal eLearning or VILT program. Use it to introduce a topic, or to motivate and summarize the impact of mastering a topic at the end of a training session. You know we love reinforcement! This strategy is a great way to create reinforcement "bites" of content. Used strategically and implemented authentically, informal learning has the power to foster a community of engaged, voluntary learners.

5. Embed It In Your Culture

You crossed the first hurdle, and some informal content is out there. Hopefully it landed well and you’re getting positive feedback. Now, it’s time to embed this informal information sharing within your culture! Who else can put content out there? What other ways are there to use short videos in business and in learning? Here are a few examples of prompts to get people in your organization engaged:

  • We’re beginning development on effective change management for managers. What's your top tip?
  • We’re creating new hire sales training on product X. Send me your top customer objection and how you handle it; the winner will get a gift card!
  • What probing questions would you ask if you needed to coach your employees on X?
  • How do you introduce yourself in client calls?