Connecting Formal and Informal Learning

By Maria Behrendt

Maria Behrendt, based in Frankfurt, Germany, will be contributing on a regular basis to a new feature debuting soon on the RPS blog known as Global Perspectives. Here she and other experts from Raytheon Professional Services (RPS) will share their observations and perspectives on key issues impacting the training industry in their markets and across other regions of the world.

Social media tools are enabling learners to take control of their own learning experience.  This presents both a challenge and an opportunity for learning and development (L&D) professionals on how to best embrace social media tools while also enabling formal and informal learning to occur. It also leads to a question many training professionals are currently grappling with, can informal learning be formalized?

The 2011 Towards Maturity report on learning technology adoption in European businesses found that 35% of 182 organizations surveyed actively encourage employees to access Social Media for informal learning. It also reported that 52% of them are using social networks such as Twitter and Facebook to support learning. The report predicts this percentage will rise to 73% within two years.

That means organizations are increasingly recognizing the need to provide their workforces with greater access to informal knowledge-based content. But how much learning content are they really making available through informal channels? Can it be accessed by learners when and how they need it? Are quality standards being met?

As training professionals, RPS understands that the creation of new, informal learning environments does not relieve L&D departments from the need to deliver quality training or to measure the effectiveness of their training investment.  In many learning environments, social media is being embedded within blended learning programs to leverage social media’s capabilities and employee enthusiasm while also implementing processes that embrace quality standards and efficient learning.

Learning management systems (LMS) can also incorporate social platforms to work within formal learning environments. One such system is Moodle-based, enabling it to offer functions like Chat, Feedback, Forum, Wiki, Blog, and Comments. Mobile Learning Suites can be configured to allow learners to be connected and current at all times, and also factors in the social aspects of mobile learning and feedback of data into the LMS.

Another important learning technology that continues to gain traction worldwide is virtual classroom training. VCT has established itself as a proven technology in offering learners a simple and synchronous way of engaging with each other via chat and polls during a formal learning session. VCT’s obvious cost-saving attributes make it popular with widely dispersed learning organizations.

In addition, Twitter was recently employed in a European car launch training event as a effective way to facilitate discussion and comment on particular training sessions and issues that arose. The training provider used Twitter to guide learners by posting links to other relevant material and to enable feedback. Doing so combined social and mobile as well as formal and informal learning – a true blended solution!

We believe the highest quality social learning environments are characterized by the continued involvement of facilitators and instructors and the discipline of a structured learning environment. A pro-active approach coupled with fresh and innovative thinking is a standard part of our design and operational delivery capabilities. By taking advantage of the benefits of social learning, a new form of workforce development can be created. It is time to think beyond formal learning and join this exciting new era.

Maria Behrendt is EMEA Training Solution Designer at RPS responsible for designing impactful learning solutions that align employees, customers and partners with key business goals and mission objectives.  Having worked in the training sector for more than 10 years she focused on spearheading research in learning innovation and the implementation of cutting edge learning technologies. Maria is a Qualified Raytheon Six Sigma™ specialist and is based in Ruesselsheim, Germany.