Time For A New Look At Learning

What is the role of L&D in this informal learning world?

Having explored the informal development options, Matthews then explains that L&D should focus on partnering with business leaders by enhancing and demonstrating the value of non-traditional learning.

“L&D needs to spread its influence into the learning that is happening informally and thereby assist people to be capable when and where they need to be.”

Matthews describes two key functions for this group:

            1) Aligning informal learning with business objectives

            2) Helping people jump the “knowing-doing gap”

The “knowing-doing gap” comes from a book of the same name by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton and refers to the “problem in which companies fail to take the vital step of transforming knowledge and learning into action.”

Rather than leaving employees to figure out how to apply classroom learning to their jobs, learning professionals can help them turn knowledge into behaviors and actions.

How can you get started with informal learning?

True to his avowed dedication to practical solutions, Matthews lays out clear steps you can take today to identify where employees are learning and make the most of it.

He shows you how to:

  1. Discover how people are sharing information today.
  2. Identify how people are collaborating.
  3. Find out what people need to function in their daily jobs.
  4. Market your efforts so management and employees begin to see informal learning as valuable and effective.

Matthews suggests starting to encourage knowledge sharing with available tools like wikis, forums, message boards and social media.

Then, with a good understanding of your “learnscape,” Matthews proposes supporting the development process by helping people learn how to learn, incorporating practical experiences under key learning objectives, and providing time for practice and reflection.

He also notes that L&D should take responsibility for maintaining and vetting information sources. Like the internet, your own resource repositories will quickly fill up with garbage unless you curate and vet the material in it regularly.

To bridge the knowing-doing gap, Matthews advises:

  1. Focusing learning around actions (which are associated with key business goals).
  2. Avoiding “how we’ve always done it.”
  3. Measuring behaviors and habits as well as business metrics so you can see correlations between specific actions and specific results.

The power is in the measurement.

Demonstrating the benefit of informal learning means measuring results. Matthews recommends evaluating three key areas:

  1. Does the informal learning solution meet the needs of the business?
  2. Does it meet the needs of the learners?
  3. How have performance goals improved?

He shows readers how to use a variety of tools to assess these areas:

  • Focus groups
  • Interviews
  • Observations
  • Surveys
  • Usage numbers
  • Task completions

The value is in the action.

This book offers tons of practical ideas beyond what I’ve detailed here, and readers who are committed to taking action will find an excellent blueprint. But Matthews concludes by admitting that a book can only help transfer knowledge. It can’t create results for you.

You and I and all the L&D professionals struggling to get attention from management today have to take action to make a real difference. Thanks to Paul Matthews’ great experience and detailed advice for harnessing the power of informal learning, it’s a little easier to take that action today.


Carol Bleyle
Carol Bleyle
CAROL handles client services and marketing for Software, a training platform designed to promote experiential, on-the-job learning and development. She works to realize the vision of turning the 70% of informal learning we do at work into a powerful training and development tool. With an M.A. in Cognitive Linguistics from the University of California at Berkeley, Carol views skills development through the lens of cognitive science and psychology And over the past 23 years, whether in traditional classrooms or on-the-go mentoring in her own company, Carol has constantly searched for realistic ways to make learning more natural and engaging. As a writer, trainer, consultant, entrepreneur and public speaker, Carol helps business owners find practical solutions to employee performance. She and her husband reside in beautiful Loudoun County Virginia with three energetic dogs and two lazy horses.

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  1. In this last while myself and a few of my team have been entrenched in developing courses and workshops to develop data people and data-driven organizations. We made a big push to focus on the business and culture psychology behind data, talent, and data skills. No matter what we were developing, “learning” in the organization always came up as a crucial factor.