Integrating Formal and Informal Learning in an Agile Organisation

A ‘choose your own adventure’ model for the delivery of organisational training

Now some of you may have read this article previously as it was published earlier in the year in Training & Development, the magazine of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD), but I was reading over it again today and thought it was worth sharing on here.

Delivering integrated workforce training which is able to quickly meet organisational requirements with minimal interruption to the workplace is a challenge faced by most organisations and in particular those organisations with highly geographically and culturally diverse workforces.

Can I have that as a ½ Day?

How often have all of us heard that from a manager, team leader or staff member?  The reality for organisations, as it has always been, is that the more time an employee spends away from their regular duties undertaking training the less time they are providing a service to clients.  There is a business imperative to ensure that staff are ready to work as soon as possible after they join an organisation and that their continuing training interrupts their day to day work as little as possible.  We, as Training and Learning and Development professionals, are tasked by our organisations with ensuring that staff are not simply ready and able to undertake their roles, but that they are competent and have all of the training that is necessary (and in some cases mandatory) for their position.  This is a balancing act that most of us face on an almost day to day basis, meeting legislative, regulative and organisational requirements as quickly as possible, yet still be able to ensure that participants are actually capable of doing what they have been trained to do.  The larger and more geographically or culturally diverse your organisation is the more difficult this is to achieve, particularly in very agile, entrepreneurial organisations, or organisations or roles with high staff turnover, where new staff often need to be upskilled rapidly in order to meet the demands of the business.

Utilising traditional methods of training delivery such as face to face, off the job, facilitated training is no longer able to meet all of the needs of either organisations or the individual participants.  Neither, however, is online learning the answer to all of these issues; while it does provide an answer, issues of access, bandwidth, computer literacy, assessing competency, ensuring learning transfer and learner preferences all impact upon its usability and application.  It is necessary to adopt a blended, or as I prefer to call it an integrated approach, not just to particular training courses learning experiences, but to organisational learning as a whole.  We need to integrate formal and informal learning across our organisations, we need to think about multiple delivery avenues for the same information and provide staff with a choice about how they access and interact with the materials.

Organisational Touch points

One way to make this integration more effective is to understand that employees often have multiple organisational touch points.  There is their line manager, who provides them with day to day support in the accomplishment of their tasks; Training and Learning and Development units who provide them with courses, workshops and e-learning opportunities; other staff, be they at the same or different levels, practice or process leaders who while not managers by necessity, have high levels of skill around their particular job roles.  All of these touch points offer opportunities for learning; more than that however they offer us the opportunity to integrate these learning opportunities to achieve the best possible outcome for the participant and their learning preferences and therefore for the organisation itself.  L&D provides the formal, off the job training in the mandatory skills required both to be job ready and to upskill staff.   Line managers take on a coaching and on job training and assessment role, providing evidence of competency through observation and training through stretch tasks team and group activities and one on one feedback.  The practice and process leaders become the subject matter experts providing further coaching and mentoring experiences in their area of expertise.  They provide answers, best practice solutions, allowing the learner to get the wisdom of their experience when they require it.  All of these touch points provide staff with the ability to access the information they need in the format that is easiest for them to learn from, this support and integration of the learning functions throughout the organisation reaffirms the skills taught in the standard classroom environment and embeds the transfer of learning.

These touch points work in the opposite direction as well, they provide Learning and Development units with the ability to assess competency and ensure that the training being provided centrally meets the needs of the end users, the business.  Line managers can be provided with checklists of skills they should see in their staff after attendance at training, allowing them to evaluate not only the participants but the effectiveness of the course as well.  If they see over a period of time that staff attending particular training are having difficulty with certain aspects this can be easily raised with the learning and development unit and if necessary the training content or delivery modified to better suit the needs of the participants.  Practice leaders can provide moderation and validation of current content and assessment, become training resources in the area of expertise and administer and lead discussions around their communities of practice.

Piecing together the Jigsaw

Learner driven but organisationally directed learning is the key here.  L&D and training departments need to understand the purpose of the training being undertaken by staff.  Is it to acquaint them to the organisation, ensure compliance, assess competency, provide them with necessary skills, give them access to answers or to build knowledge and capacity?  It is the business driver that will to some extent determine the delivery model and content.  If staff need quickly accessible information about solving specific problems an online book supplier, where they can instantly look up the definitive text on the subject, an organisational wiki or a shared discussion forum are all going to provide a better outcome than having to attempt to remember something they were told in training six months previously or flip through pages of notes (if they can find them).  Introducing a new hire to the organisational structure, and the faces and names of their Managers, Directors, Team members and Mentors while at the same time ensuring that high level polices around areas such as health and safety and workplace harassment and internet usage may be better served by a video presentation followed up with an e-learning module and concluding with a quiz.  A staff member working through a Certificate IV or Diploma program in a remote area, may get the most value out of having all of the learning materials and assessments burnt onto a CD or even printed out and posted to them so they can work through them in their own time, with this supported by regular telephone contact with the Assessor and development of a relationship with a workplace mentor.

Often organisations have a lot of these things in place in various areas, or they have a blended model of delivery for different programs, or collaborative wikis and workspaces but it is not integrated.  It is not learner driven.  If a new hire without a computer can’t access orientation and inductions prior to commencement, we lose valuable time on their first day.  If a learner’s preference is for collaboration and discussion, yet the course material consists of 100’s of pages of reading they are likely to lose interest and drop out.  As much of the material and training on offer needs to be in as many forms as possible to increase the learners in order to maximise learner engagement yet still provide us with the opportunities to assess them and ensure their competency.

Video presentations and e-learning induction modules need to have paper based equivalents, backed up by a workplace buddy and formal face to face learning.  The pages of written material need to be available online or on a CD and searchable, computer skills training needs to be broken down into bit size chunks that answer specific questions and  line and practice managers need to be engaged and motivated to observe, give feedback and respond to their staff.

It seems daunting when you first consider it, but most of us don’t have as far to go as we think.  It is a small shift in perception from blended course delivery models to an integrated organisational learning model.  A small shift with huge payoffs however, not just for the organisation, but most importantly for the learners and staff themselves.

About pauldrasmussen
Paul Rasmussen is one of Australia’s most widely read Vocational Education and Training Commentators. He provides deep, unbiased analysis and insights not only on topical issues, but also on the underlying structure and policy which supports the industry. His writing and analysis has been praised for its uncompromising and thought provoking style and its ability to focus on the issues of real importance to the sector. He has advised various government departments and ministers, training providers, public and private organisations, not for profits and small to medium enterprises on the VET sector and the issues and opportunities facing it. He is one of Australia’s most awarded learning professionals and a regular speaker at a range of conventions and forums. His extensive experience in vocational education, and learning and development coupled with formal qualifications in philosophy, ethics, business and education management allow Paul to provide a unique view of the road ahead and how to navigate it.

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