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How to leverage informal learning

In my last post (“Learning is critical, L&D critical?”) I described how the L&D is at risk of being marginalised. More and more learning takes place at work through experiences, collaboration and curated knowledge and information. The rapid technological development and employees changing preferences for learning puts more focus on informal learning.

In this post, I will describe new roles required within L&D. I will also describe how the business needs to take greater responsibility for learning. L&D’s task will be to encourage and enable both formal and informal learning in the organization.

Support informal learning

In the last post I described the 70:20:10 model, which indicates that 70% of our learning takes place at work based on the experiences we have, 20% through interaction with others and 10% is via formal methods such as courses. L&D professionals need to support all learning possible in the organization and not just delivers courses. The image below offers examples of methods we can use to learn. As I discussed in the last article, I have divided learning at work into “Experience” and “Information/Environment”. The methods differ in how they are applied and in the responsibility of making it happen.

The different part of informal learning

In short, L&D need to:

  • Change how learning solutions are designed. We need to focus on the work capabilities to be achieved rather than the content to transmit.
  • We need to add opportunities to apply skills and learn from experience with, for example, assignments at work, projects, simulations, action-based learning and put more effort into providing support when the task is performed, e.g. short video instructions, cheat sheets, performance support etc.
  • Make it easier for employees to find valuable knowledge that already exists. These can be videos, recorded webinars, articles, guides, websites, short eLearning and more. We need to curate content and make it easily accessible.
  • Encourage and enable social learning by providing social platforms, coach employees to, for example, video record experiences. Work on influencing the culture so that sharing knowledge becomes a natural part of the work.
  • Design the work for learning, embedding feedback, actionable data, performance support and learning in work itself. Leverage opportunities for new experiences with e.g. job rotation, coaching and assignments. Support managers to apply the methods and appoint themselves as coaches.

How do we get the resources for this?

Expanding learning easy to say but hard to do. As L&D professionals we are likely busy developing and delivering courses today. We don’t have time for anything else. We must then ask ourselves whether this is effective or not? For us who are busy delivering, or for the employees who spend a lot of time away from work in classroom courses.


A first question is whether we need to develop everything ourselves? Today, lots of high quality learning is offered from MOOCS or course libraries such as Lynda, Coursera, EdCaste, Udacity, Kahn Academy and others. Often with integration with modern LMS. Can we shift resources from development and delivery to curating and inserting external courses into our course library? I recently listened to a training manager who reduced 30% of the course catalogue with external resources from MOOC and course libraries. This frees up resources.


Streamline course delivery

In general, many Swedish organizations use too little technology in training. It is not uncommon for 80-90% of the course hours delivered to be in the classroom and 10 technology-based learning (e.g. eLearning). This shall be compared with figures from ATD’s “State of the Industry 2014” where the best global companies use 50-60% technology-based learning. What does this difference mean? There is, on the one hand, a cost aspect. Delivering through classrooms costs 10-15,000 SEK per course day if the cost of employee’s time is included. The cost of corresponding training via eLearning is 2-3,000 SEK per employee. There is also a big difference in the speed in which we reach employees. An instructor can train 20 employees at a time. This makes it difficult when new knowledge is to be quickly built in the organization.

For example, a company with 10,000 employees can free about 1,000 delivered course days by increasing the percentage of technology-based learning from 10% to 50%. It frees many teachers who can start encourage the other learning in the organization.

Increase just-in-time

Just-in-time means we learn when we do the job instead. Opportunities to encourage just-in-time have developed a lot in recent years. Today when we need to do a task we have not done before, we can often find a video on Youtube that shows how to do it. As I described before, many organizations are starting to build their internal video on demand channels. Support for work with computers and software has evolved a lot recently. Today you can get both step-by-step instructions and lessons inside the actual application. You can also get support and advice just as you enter data into the systems. Walk-Me and Assima Vimago are examples of tools that make this possible. More than 70% of the workforce in Sweden use computers at work. More than 90% also have access to a smartphone or tablet. By using QR codes and mobiles, we can transfer learning to the moment when we need to start interact with a new machine.

To conclude: We often have many people involved in training that cost a lot and have little effect. There is much to streamline in the use of new technology to deliver faster, closer to work and at lower cost, with fewer teachers and with less demands of the employee’s time. There is also much to be gained using external content instead of developing everything yourself.

New roles in L&D

Leverage full scale learning in the organization means that we put more focus on enabling and strengthening social learning and learning at work. It’s about shifting the focus from L&D doing everything connected to learning, i.e. developing and delivering, to enabling learning in the business.

This makes a big difference in the composition of staff. As I said earlier, 70-80% of the staff in many Swedish organizations are focused on developing and delivering courses in classrooms and eLearning. The study “How and where organizations are investing to close employee skill gaps” from Bersin shows hos this kind of L&D personell between 2011-2014 decreased from 50% to 41%. In Swedish companies where I myself have been involved in analyzing the distribution of personnel, the proportion of instructors is well over 50%.

This change has made new roles appear within L&D. Some examples are:


Curators are needed for a number of reasons. On the one hand, they have a role in reviewing and evaluating the large number of courses and videos available in MOOC ́s and web-based course libraries. They also have a big role to play in encouraging learning from “information/environment”. They are aware of the users’ needs and skill gap and should make it easier for employees to find relevant resources such as instructions, videos, web pages, guides and anything else that can be used for learning. Often they work with learning portals and the responsibility for how they are organized and maintained.

Social coach

The use of social platforms does not happen by itself. Employees need knowledge of how to, for example, create a video and make a post. Sharing usually requires a change in mindset. It is a considerate undertaking to create a collaborative culture, managers who are role models, employees who are curious and who spend time on knowledge sharing themselves. The role is also needed to moderate and facilitate forums, video sites, social feeds, etc.

Technology architect

Technology is rapidly changing many businesses right now. This is also the case in learning, where a boom in new technology changes learning and creates more efficiency in terms of cost and time and more impact of learning at work. We need a role that looks ahead, based on the strategy of the business and that sees how new technology can improve learning. The role evaluates and tests new technology to see what can leverage learning in the business. An important component will be a strategy and “roadmap” for the introduction of new technology. L&D is responsible for the technology platform that enables more effective total learning and to create a holistic experience, from LMS to learning portals, social platforms, video platforms, etc.

Business consultant

Organizations that have progressed a little further with formal training usually have a learning consultant to analyze needs and create learning solutions that better ensure the impact at work. Now we need to go further. We need to understand what affects the organisational capability of employees and to propose solutions that is about other things than training, such as motivation, leadership, process redesign, usability, tools etc. We need to encourage the business in analysing needs and working with learning and developing activities, not least line managers who have an impact on the learning of experiences, e.g. challenging assignments or job rotation.

ATD kompetensmodell

ATD’s competence model gives an indication of what skill we already see that training functions need.

Responsibility for learning must be integrated into the business

Moving from a “provider of courses” to a learning organization implies a much greater integration with the business. 90% of the learning (experiences, information/environment, social) is driven by the business rather than in L&D. This places demands on the learning stakeholders and how L&D act to enable, support and leverage learning.


In the “old” world, L&D created mandatory courses and programs. The manager reported and approved that the employee was allowed to attend a course. We measured participation and learning immediately afterwards. Now we know how little this is connected to the employees capability and also what a small part of all learning courses addresses. In a fast-changing world, the responsibility needs to be on the employee to continuously develop: to follow the flow of knowledge, learn from experience at work and share knowledge. This is also increasingly happening. Many pay out of their own pocket to attend MOOC or take an online course. According to Bersin, the knowledge worker spends 30 minutes a day keeping up to date, following news feeds, participating in forums, etc. Learning skills becomes one of the employees’ most important capabilities. L&D have a role to create and encourage this change towards employees own responsibility and daily learning.


The linemanager is the one that directly affects the time and budget of the employee’s learning. Much of the experience-based learning such as job rotation, challenging projects, career planning, etc. are methods that line manager “owns”. The manager also influence social learning with a coaching leadership style, a climate for feedback and a supportive approach to knowledge sharing. L&D’s role is to encourage managers with methods and also to influence the culture and attitudes that exist among line managers.

Business/Process Owners

Needed skills are changing as working methods, products and services, technology, systems etc. are changing rapidly. It is the owners of these processes and functions who can define new skill requirements, has the subject matter experts, produce information and in many cases budget and develop training. They have a direct impact on formal training, what information is produced and can also participate with knowledge in social learning. We need to think about how responsibility is distributed between the business and L&D in a world where skill requirements are changing faster and faster. How do we work together to capture the demands on learning solutions? More and more companies are moving much of the initiative for training, information and social learning to the business. L&D then takes a role of enabling and supporting the business.

Senior Management

Learning at work, by constantly developing new experiences, actively searching for knowledge and collaborating is impacted by the attitudes and habits of the organization. Top management needs to clarify the importance of continuous development, the employee’s responsibility and that learning is more than formal training. They need to act as role models, for example, in sharing knowledge. L&D has a role to encourage and coach leaders in this behaviors and to constantly adapt learning to the organization’s goals and strategies.


HR often has the ownership of the organization’s skill requirements and the choice to recruit or develop to provide the resources needed by the organization. HR, more than L&D, often pursue methods that are experiential, such as job rotation, performance management, mobility and development plans. L&D has an active role in coordinating the skill requirements with the HR function and to encourage HR in implementing experiential methods.

Final words

Much of what I’ve written is, of course, not new. 70:20:10 is, as I said, 20 years old. But at the same time, it can be useful for everyone in L&D to ask themselves:

  • What elements of 70:20 do I include in my courses and programs?
  • What share of my resources are invested in learning from experiences, others and information/environment.
  • How are my staff divided into 70:20:10?
  • How do we encourage the organization’s overall learning?
  • How do we work with the business to encourage learning?

Author: Johan Skoglöf
Johan är visionär och senior konsult med missionen att hjälpa företag att skapa framtidens lärande organisation. Med över 25 år i branschen och kunder som Ericsson, Volvo, Scania, SEB, Handelsbanken, HM och ICA har Johan en bred erfarenhet i hur lärande organisationer skapas.

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