As I recently wrote in a post on the benefits of informal learning, companies today have the opportunity to leverage popular technological trends, such as the use of social media, for professional, workplace learning purposes.  Despite this incredible potential for engagement in professional environments, however, misconceptions about the effectiveness of informal learning sometimes prevent it from being adopted by corporate trainers.

Here are some of the most common myths about informal learning, followed by discussions that demystify the concerns they reflect:

Myth #1: It’s too unstructured Some may argue that informal learning may be a distraction from the goals of a training session, or may go off-topic due to the organic nature of the conversation it generates.

However, when informal learning comes with clear instructions and desired outcomes are explained ahead of time, learners will be more likely to stay on task and work towards the goals set out during training sessions.

Myth #2:  Learners will not retain the information they need Due to the fast-paced and ubiquitous nature of many informal learning tools, it may be difficult to see them as a legitimate means for building a broad base of knowledge.

This concern is overcome through the continuous learning and knowledge sharing that comes from informal learning.  Tools like wikis allow users to create a database of highly relevant content, while discussion boards and blogs can allow employees to store and exchange lessons learned from on-the-job experiences.  And, since all of this information is stored online, your employees can re-read relevant materials when they need it most.

Myth #3: Results can’t be measured There may be a tendency to believe that, because informal learning is so dynamic, it is difficult to quantify the impact it has on an organization.

Just because informal learning might occur outside of a traditional learning environment, however, doesn’t mean that impact on business can’t be quantified.  By measuring individual employee performance against what training has been received, it is possible to see what learning techniques have driven results for your organization.  Customizable learning plans can then be created for each employee to fill in gaps and build on strengths found in the learning process.

Myth #4:  It’s always a liability Since informal learning encourages organic and honest discussion, employers may be concerned about reputation damage or leakage of confidential information online.

Though these concerns are legitimate, managing online learning through both policy and active monitoring is the best way to ensure that your employees understand the consequences of what they say online.  And furthermore, I also hear that some trainers would RATHER conversations be out in the open so that they can personally address them and set the record straight.

Myth #5:  Only my younger employees will like it Many informal learning tools, such as social media networks, are mistakenly thought of as trends that are only used by young adults.

However, statistics show that nearly 60% of Twitter users are over 30, nearly three quarters of Baby Boomers have a Facebook profile, and LinkedIn is dominated by people over the age of 35. Though there may be a learning curve for some who did not grow up in the age of the Internet, you may be surprised by how many of them are already taking advantage of online learning tools.

At Blackboard, we have the tools you need to leverage informal learning for the benefit of your organization.  Collaborative learning systems like Blackboard Learn ™ provide an intuitive and efficient platform for tapping into the potential informal learning to engage your professional learners and help them reach their goals during training and beyond.

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