Friday, December 30, 2011

The Single Most Important Thing I Learned In 2011

This year has been instrumental in my life and in the life of my family. We moved across continents; from India to Canada. During the year, I (re)learned many things. I learned to respect my goals and love my dreams and constantly fuel them with positive energy and resilience. I learned to plan for change and accept when things don’t go my way. I also learned that whatever I set my mind to, it is possible for me to achieve it.

But the single most important thing I learned in 2011 is the positive impact of integration.

INTEGRATION is a powerful word. Integration means to bring together. It is an act of combining or adding parts to make a unified whole.

At both a personal and professional level, there have been integration of various kinds. At a personal level, my partner and I integrated all our thoughts, efforts and resources towards our common goal. At a professional level, I have been able to integrate into unrestricted and equal association with my organization. At a social level, we are trying to integrate with the new country and community.

Just as for me, I think the term INTEGRATION had a deeper meaning for the learning industry this year.
  • Workplaces and teams are being integrated to ensure collaborative learning and seamless knowledge sharing and transfer.
  • Learning technologies are being integrated to offer better learning opportunities and blended learning models are not exceptions anymore.
  • There is a growing acceptance of the idea that the intellectual, social and emotional needs of a learner need to be integrated when designing learning.
  • The L&D teams are better integrated with the organization goals and objectives, which allows them to offer more meaningful training interventions.
  • There is more focus on integrating learning and training with the work processes and the boundaries between formal learning and informal learning are slowly disappearing. 
  • Social learning and Web2.0 tools are being integrated with workplaces, higher-education institutions and schools. This integration is both promoted and supported around the world.
It is clear that integration is critical to success – in designing and implementing training and everywhere else. But we cannot leave integration to chance. Integration does not happen by itself and needs constant focus and attention and planning.

In this New Year, I hope to see more integrated approaches to designing, developing and delivering training where theories and techniques are integrated, tools and technologies are integrated and intellectual and social needs are integrated.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why Do We Need to Assess? My Top 5 Reasons

A couple of weeks ago, I read an article about why schools in Finland are successful. There was one sentence in this article that really stuck with me.

“We prepare children to learn how to learn, not how to take a test.” 
- Pasi Sahlberg, a former math and physics teacher who is now in Finland’s Ministry of Education and Culture.

I think this sentence captures the essence of why we should assess learning and performance. It is important to realize who all benefit from assessment. While the learner needs to be at the core of any assessment strategy, instructional designers, subject matter experts and schools or organizations also tend to benefit from the assessment exercise. But we need to appreciate that assessment is about learning and not (only) about numbers.

As Richard J. Stiggins in his article, Assessment Crisis: The Absence Of Assessment FOR Learning, says “Assessments of and for learning are both important. If assessments of learning provide evidence of achievement for public reporting, then assessments for learning serve to help students learn more. The crucial distinction is between assessment to determine the status of learning and assessment to promote greater learning.”

So, here are my top 5 reasons for assessing learning and performance:
  • To identify gaps in performance and learning needs (pre-assessment)
  • To encourage and support learning (continuous assessment)
  • To measure learning and improve achievement (continuous assessment)
  • To prepare learners for the next step in the learning journey (post-assessment)
  • To seek feedback and areas of improvement in the instructional design process (continuous assessment)
Assessment is a collaborative and ongoing process. It is about both me as an instructional designer and my learner as the key customer. By leveraging a continuous two-way feedback process, assessment can help learners take responsibility for their own learning and help instructional designers become more responsible about the design of appropriate learning interventions.

As a training consultant, my goal is to use assessment to encourage learning, promote reflection and educate so that everyone becomes a better learner. I leave you with the following quote by Dave Carter: "Teachers assess to test; educators assess to assist learning".

Monday, November 14, 2011

Top 5 Tips for Embracing Change

Change is the only constant. It is a process of becoming different. As a professional learning consultant, I am always working with “change” – either trying to cause it or helping learners deal with it. I love change and thrive on it.
Recently, I have had one of the biggest changes in my life. My family and I have moved from New Delhi, India to Vancouver, B.C. Canada. This is a permanent move, so there are all sorts of changes– physical, environmental, social, professional, personal and so on.
Here are my top 5 tips for embracing change and making it work!
  • 1)    Accept and embrace: It is important to realize and accept that change happens. It always does. Change is a process that is constantly happening. To move forward, we need to be aware of what’s changing and embrace it.
  • 2)    Plan and prepare: We planned and prepared for this change over the last 3 years. It may seem sudden but it never is. We need to learn and change a little bit everyday and that’s the best way to deal with what we may perceive as ‘dramatic’ change.
  • 3)      Communicate and share: It is always important to communicate but even so when you are going through change. Share your feelings with others who matter or who have gone through the change before. Discuss and feel light!
  • 4)      Be flexible and adapt: It is good to plan but not all things go as we planned. To deal with change, we need to be flexible and adapt ourselves. Re-evaluate your skills, be open to learning and assess your plans at every step of change.
  • 5)      Stay positive and happy: This is a tough one but perhaps the most important one. We can’t change every situation; we can however, change our response to it. Remember that you can’t control everything. Keep a positive attitude and stay happy as you try to walk along the new path.

Remember, change is progressive because it helps us learn and unlearn.

“To exist is to change, to change is to mature, to mature is to go on creating oneself endlessly.”
~Henri Bergson~

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Starting a Blog in 5 Easy Steps and Keeping at it!

Recently, Tumblr reached 10 Billion posts mark. Tumblr is a microblogging platform that started in 2007 and went from 1 billion to 10 billion posts in just one year! A study by Universal McCann reports that over 77% of Internet users read blogs. In US alone, this 77% would conservatively mean more than 54 million readers. It is also reported that there are 900,000 blog posts posted every day in 81 different languages. All these statistics point to the power of blogging.

My friends and family often ask me about the best way to start blogging. Do you also want to start your own blog but don’t know where to begin?

I started blogging in 2008 and consistently publish atleast one post every month (My posts are usually long, descriptive and based on best practices, therefore 1= many!).  After 55 blog posts, more than 15,000 visits worldwide, and 43 visits in the last 24 hours (as of 14 September 2011), I think I am a fairly successful blogger. I think I am now equipped to share some of the best practices, tips and traps about blogging!

So, here is a short how-to guide that can help you start your blog in 5 easy steps.

Step 1: Identify what you want to blog about.
A blog can be a personal dairy of thoughts and feelings or it can be a professional collection of articles, notes, and ideas. The first step is to identify what you want to blog about and why. Remember to pick a topic that you are passionate about. Writing a blog is all about self-motivation and if you don’t like what you are blogging about, you won’t be able to sustain your energy and keep up the blog.

Step 2: Sign into a blogging service
Before you decide to spend money on hosted services for a blog, experiment using one of the free services available including:

All these services offer free registration and options to customise the look and feel of your blog. You can compare the feature set of these services and then choose the one that works best as per your requirements. Here is a website that offers a comparison of blog services.

Step 3: Select a theme and layout
Most blogging services allow you to customise the theme and layout of your blog. Much of this is really about selecting options and does not require technical knowledge about codes and tags. After signing up, you will be able to select from a gallery of available themes and layouts. To begin with, use the standard themes available and then personalize the theme as you get comfortable with using the blogging service and the idea of blogging.

Step 4: Add generic content
Before you publish a post, you must include some generic content in your blog including information about you, how readers can get in touch with you, comments and feedback boxes and other hyperlinks perhaps to your twitter, facebook or LinkedIn pages. You can think of this as the ‘About’ page for your blog. Feel free to control the amount and type of information that you’d like to share with people. Use the generic layouts that offer ready-to-use templates to add this information easily.

Step 5: Write a post and publish it
Now that the blog is set up, it is time to write your first post. In the beginning, it may be difficult to write about your chosen topic and you may also undergo the writer’s block. But as you begin to type your thoughts, the task will become easier. You may save drafts and continue to work on posts over long periods. After you are convinced that you are ready to publish a post, if available, click on the preview option to see what the post will look like after being published. The editors are usually WYSIWYG. So, it is easy to make the necessary adjustments and then publish the post. Different services offer various publishing options including the date-time stamp, key words, and whether readers are allowed to post comments etc.

As you walk the blogging path, use the following tips:

1.       Market your blog by sharing the URL of your blog with colleagues, friends and family in an email and publish the url on other social networking accounts such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.
2.       Network with bloggers in the blogosphere, visit other blogs and leave meaningful comments with a link to your blog.
3.       Update your blog frequently and consistently and always spell-check before publishing a post.
4.       Keep your posts interesting and thought-provoking to invite participation. Always remain true to the main idea of your blog.
5.       When you receive a comment or a compliment, be sure to acknowledge it.

Here are some traps that you should avoid:


1.       It is easy to copy content from the web. But please write original content. If you like another post or want to quote a website, use appropriate references, citations and hyperlinks.
2.       It is easy to get demotivated when blogging. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t have visitors in the first few weeks or months. The more useful your posts, the better the chances of people dropping by.
3.       It is easy to get spammed when blogging. So, avoid posting anything personal or divulging too much information about your own self.
4.       It is easy to get into arguments with readers especially when you can’t clarify your point in a verbal conversation. Avoid it. Also, don’t criticize others or pass judgements about specific people in your posts.
5.       It is tempting to share ground-breaking news about your company that was just announced in a company meeting. But please avoid posting any content related to your company unless you are writing the official company blog post on the company website.

Always remember, it is fairly easy to start a blog but it is difficult to maintain it. So, keep at it and happy blogging!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top 5 Tips to Become a Better Listener

We cannot underestimate the power of listening skills at any phase of our lives – as children, young adults, and mature professionals. I personally believe that success and failure depends on how well we listen to everything around us - the voice of our parents, teachers, leaders and nature. 

Here are my top 5 tips to become a better listener:

1) Be quiet  - To really listen, you have to be quiet first. I ensure that I spend quality 'silent' time with my own self. I usually do this during my evening walks in the park. Sometimes, I just sit down and meditate in my room. >> You must learn to listen to your own self before you can listen to others.

2) Observe I once read somewhere, 'Words have no meaning, people have meaning.' I think listening really means to engage with the other person. In order to do so, I do observe their background, mood, concerns, body language etc. in the light of the conversation goal. I try to project a positive body language and use the technique of mirroring to observe and resonate. >> Listening is about two entities. So, it is important that you understand and respect the other person and their background.

3) Take notes - I know that everything can be recorded and heard again but taking notes helps me stay engaged with the conversation and listen actively. I do this when I am in professional meetings either online or face-to-face. Taking notes also projects a positive outlook and a commitment towards the conversation or discussion. >> Taking notes is not about flattery. It is about being truly interested in the conversation and its outcome.

4) Avoid reactions - I consciously try to listen without overbearing the other person with my reactions. I can't say I succeed every time but I try to be as non-judgmental as I can be. This is very important in both personal and professional settings in order to avoid misunderstandings and conflicts. >> You need to suspend your disbelief and listen without preparing your response or thinking about what you are going to say next.    

5) Ask questions - One sure way of listening actively is to be prepared to ask questions at the end of the conversation/talk. It could be a clarification or a question. I use this strategy to become more attentive in conferences and seminars and be more curious and interested in the topic. Besides, relevant questions also help the audience at large. >> To complete the listening process, you must summarize and clarify any doubts. Good questions will fuel learning.

For more tips, you can view an inspiring talk by Julian Treasure on Ted talksJulian shares with us the importance of listening and how we can listen better. I agree with the state of affairs as described by Julian. I do believe we are losing our ability to listen. But I hope with these tips, we can work towards becoming better listeners.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Making Learning Fun!

This month’s LCBQ is “How do you make e-learning fun?” 
I begin with a quote by British novelist, Arnold Bennett who said, "There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul."
I believe this quote sums up all the reasons why we should include emotions – not just fun - into our learning interventions – e-learning or any learning for that matter.

But before I explore the idea of including fun in learning, it is important for me to share that poorly designed learning with lots of fun is never a good learning object. Point being, including fun does not lead to a powerful learning impact, if all other design principles are not adhered to. Also, all types of learning need not always be fun. Other emotions should be explored and included that allow the designer to teach the subject in the most sensitive and realistic manner.
Assuming that we have the right subject and the correct instructional design principles in place, fun can be the missing ingredient that our audience looks for. But we need to appreciate that everyone's idea of fun may be different. Perhaps, in this post, I am focussed on 'engaging my audience' and therefore attempting to make the training fun for them.

Here are my top 5 methods of creating engagement and ensuring fun in the training I design and deliver. Since much has been written about these topics and none needs explanation, I share my views here using quotes that sum up the methods brilliantly!

1)   Use stories. "Thought flows in terms of stories -- stories about events, stories about people, and stories about intentions and achievements. The best teachers are the best storytellers. We learn in the form of stories." - Frank Smith

2)   Use emotions. “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theatre.” - Gail Godwin

3)   Make learners do activities. "What I hear, I forget. What I see, I remember. What I do, I understand." – Confucius

4)   Make learners think. “I like a teacher who gives you something to take home to think about besides homework.”  - Lily Tomlin as "Edith Ann"

5)   Motivate and inspire learners. "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires." - William Arthur Ward
There are many tools and technologies available to an e-learning designer that can help implement these methods. Scenario-based learning, Gaming, Second life, Web 2.0 tools are all options that can be utilized effectively.

In my opinion, making any learning fun is more about the use of underlying instructional strategies than the front-facing tool. Yes, it can perhaps be a little more challenging in e-learning than in face-to-face instruction, but it is possible!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Breaking Free From Organizational Walls

The #LCBQ for June is:
How do we break down organizational walls when it comes to learning?

Here are the top 5 actions that can help in breaking down organization silos and promote learning:

1) Foster collaboration across teams, departments, businesses.

There are invisible boundaries across teams and departments. Businesses have more visible boundaries. Most departments and businesses may have clashing goals too. To break these silos and to foster learning, it is important to move away from the traditional vertical structure and create common goals that can be achieved by working together. A more horizontal, 'end-to-end' solution-based structure encourages teams, departments, and businesses to contribute their part to the overall solution and get a chance to interact with each other and learn to work together. Cross departmental pilot teams can also work together to innovate and create new products or services. This cross-functional exposure develops critical competencies across a larger group and avoids the traps of one group getting over-specialized.

2) Identify experts and provide access to these experts.

It is important for us to know our individual strengths so we can leverage those at the right time. In the same way, it is important for an organization to identify its expertise and people who posses this expertise. These experts should be identified clearly, accessible readily and especially at the time of a crisis. Problem-solving and troubleshooting tends to bring people together in ways that encourage open communication, learning from mistakes, and the ability to identify best practices by sharing knowledge. All of which are priceless ingredients to a successful learning story. Besides, Web2.0 tools can bring these experts closer to the point of need than ever before.

3) Create dedicated physical and online spaces that encourage social learning.

It is useful for people to know that there is a space - physical or online - that is dedicated to promote communication and learning. I remember, my last organization had a room called 'The Innovation Room'. The environment and decor of the room was inviting; no formal seating arrangements, bean bags, white boards, and empty flip charts. And I can proudly say, we did get together in that room to innovate - a lot. The space gave us the freedom to ideate as a group in a non-threatening environment. The same concept can be replicated online to provide online discussion forums that break the boundaries of hierarchy and structure. Social learning and learning from customers and partners should be encouraged and promoted.

4) Create a common, unifying organization culture that promotes learning.

To encourage a culture of sharing at an individual level, it is important for the management to develop this culture first at the organizational level. One of the ways to create this culture is to have uniform processes and practices that provide access to data and information in a transparent manner. By sharing data and information in a transparent manner, individuals and teams are encouraged to share their knowledge more readily and this avoids the hoarding tendency. 

5) All employees should be agents of learning.

To promote continuous learning, it is important that we continuously be at it. It is not enough to apply the first four points. Perhaps, the most important aspect is to have internal agents that promote such a learning culture in everyday situations. In an ideal world, all employees should be agents of learning. But a few always begin first. Everyone should use their position, authority and/or influence to motivate peers and subordinates to learn from each other. As influencers, you should emphasis critical values that help break silos - open communication, achievement of common goals, and knowledge-sharing. These values are far more important than personal expertise or individual success.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Addressing On-Demand Learning Needs

The #LCBQ for May is:

How do we need to change in what we do in order to address learning/performance needs that are on-demand?

In order to answer this question, I think it is important to first identify and understand the nature of learning and performance needs that are 'on-demand'. The way I look at it, only when we apply knowledge, we really learn. I don't think we would make an effort to learn anything, if we did not have the need to apply the knowledge at a specific time in a specific situation in the present or future. This basically means all learning/performance needs are on-demand. This demand may be current or in the future.

With this premise, here are the top 3 things that I think we should do in order to address the learning/performance needs:

1) Identify when, where and how the learning will be required and design it accordingly.

Consider a case where a learner is new to a particular software used for enterprise resource planning in the organization. Here is a situation where the learner is struggling with what option to select in a dialog box. Now, what kind of learning does the learner need at that time, sitting on the desk? What should be included in this learning? And how should this information or knowledge be made available?
The typical answer is that the learner should have been formally trained in using this software in perhaps a classroom training environment. This training should have prepared the learner with the typical features and benefits of the software and described various dialog boxes and options.

The truth is however, far from this. The learner is sitting on the desk, stuck in the middle of a task, and needs to know exactly which option to select in the dialog box – and the learner needs this information right now! At this time, the learner is not concerned about various features and benefits of the software. Perhaps, a better approach would be to provide a performance support tool in the form of a job-aid that lists what option needs to be selected in which particular situation. This job-aid can be pinned to the board and the learner can refer to it, when required.
Maybe this example is close to your life – maybe it is far. The bottom-line is that any learning solution we create must consider the work environment in which the learners realize they have a need for learning and need to apply the learning. It is in this environment that truly all learning should happen, which in most cases is the actual workplace or workflow.

As Gary Wise says, we need to understand and appreciate the learner’s context in terms of time, space, and media. In his article titled ‘The Continuous Learning Environment: Surviving Learning Solution Discovery’, Gary says:
“There are three categories of attributes within the learning environment:

· Space– a blend of physical location, workflow, risk, and urgency

· Media– the most compelling mix of mode and venue

· Systems– the most effective and efficient application of technology

All the attributes that fall under space, media, and systems combine to drive or restrain design decisions. It is essential to define these attributes to ensure the learning solution delivers on one global objective, which is to enable a sustained capability.”
In the same light, it is important to realize that our learning needs are not big chunks of knowledge and information. Perhaps, we need access to knowledge and background information in large amounts but we need the ‘learning’ in small chunks. Therefore, the design of learning should also be small, modular and bit-sized so that it can be provided in a format that allows us to give it just-in-time and just-enough.
2) Design continuous learning solutions not individual training programs.
All work is continuous, so should be all learning. Whether we realize it or not, we are learning all the time. A continuous learning solution, therefore explores various dimensions of the learner’s environment including formal, informal, and social learning contexts. We need to stop thinking that formal classroom training is the solution to all performance problems. We need to realize that we learn and retain our daily troubleshooting scenarios far more than any theoretical lectures that we attend in a classroom. We also need to realize that we are learn much more from being involved and active and by making mistakes and solving problems.

Therefore, when designing learning, we must move away from our tendency to think unidirectional and shy away from proposing only one form of training. We must explore other interventions such as coaching, mentoring, and blended learning. These solutions can be a blend of classroom, online, mobile learning, social learning and performance support tools. The idea is to explore and design learning interventions by exploiting various dimensions of the learner’s environment.

3) Focus training efforts and budgets into the 'informal learning' piece of the pie.

Josh Bersin of Bersin & Associates from a July 2009 webinar, ‘Future of the Business of Learning’ explained that we have approximately 2080 work hours in a year. From this, we spend about 100 hours in some type of formal learning activity or training. This is approximately 5% of the total available work hours. We spend the remaining 95% of our time doing actual work and in informal learning activities. However, all training budgets continue to focus on the 5% slice of the pie. It is time to therefore consciously focus on this informal learning piece of the pie and design learning solutions by capitalizing on this environment.
Retaining theories after a 3-day classroom training is much tougher than recalling the best possible solution that was applied within a challenging work situation. When we go out to ‘attend’ a training event, we are unable to retain more than 10-20% of what we learnt after 30 days. However, if we learn and apply something within the work situation, we are more likely to recall the learning at a future date. Our learning solutions should therefore remove the barriers between formal and informal and let all interventions permeate and become an integral part of our daily work life and workflow. It is time to realize that work = learning and learning = work. Without learning, there is no work and without work, there is no learning.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Desire Paths to Learning

Thanks to a tweet by Sahana (#sahana2802), I recently read a post on the concept of desire paths by Tony Baldasaro. The concept is from architecture and is not new. Infact, it was introduced by renaissance-man, Gaston Bachelard. He coined the term in his book,The Poetics of Space. He called these les chemins du d├ęsir: pathways of desire.
As per wikipedia "A desire path (also known as a desire line or social trail) is a path developed by erosion caused by animal or human footfall. The path usually represents the shortest or most easily navigated route between an origin and destination."

I am sure all of us have seen these paths. If not, here is a series of photos from flickr that show various desire paths captured by people across the world. There are many anecdotes that talk about how architects and developers allow people to create their desire paths and then build actual pathways and walking areas based on these desire paths.

I am fascinated by this concept because it not only applies to the design of paths in parks and neighbourhoods, but it is perhaps closely related to the design of everything. I am not surprised to know that when walking across two points, people try to find the shortest distance between these points and create their own paths. In that sense, such paths are not designated but natural paths. These paths are not created by design but by instinct and experience.

Because I am a learning professional, my obvious way to look at things is from a learning perspective. From a learning design perspective, here’s how I’d like to apply the concept of desire paths to learning:

1) Stay closest to the way people naturally learn. We naturally learn from our mistakes, by actively doing things we haven’t done before, and by talking to people around us. Stick to these principles when designing learning interventions. Critically evaluate whether your learning design is indeed the most natural, effective and best way to learn or is there a better design aka desire path out there.

2) Involve learners in the design process. Just like people create their own desire paths in parks by walking across grass and gravel, we must involve our learners during the design phase when creating any learning product. Learners should be encouraged to share their version of the ‘desire path’ of learning - the path that offers the shortest distance between where they are and where they want to be. Listen carefully and attentively. Incorporate the inputs into the design. Build your learning intervention around the desire paths of learning.

3) Select a few learners to review the output before releasing it to the world. Use the concept of prototyping and conduct early reviews such as beta teach etc. to ensure that the learners’ desire paths match the learning path incorporated into the learning intervention. Don’t be afraid to make the corrections. Remember, if you won’t change your way, the learners will find a way to change it or find their own way!

4) Listen to your learners and use the inputs for subsequent designs. Once your learners start using the product, they will share feedback – both constructive and positive. Listen to the feedback and act on the comments. Check if the feedback can be incorporated into the next build or the next course. The best features of the world’s best software have come up because of user-feedback. Don’t ignore it. Use it to build a better product just like architects use desire paths to construct concrete pathways in parks.

5) Stay informed of the learning patterns. Pay attention to what learners prefer in terms of styles, forms, and technology. Make design choices in tune with these preferences. Design learning on the basis of what is currently used instead of forcing the use of a certain type of learning design. At the very basic level – these could be the changes in the interface – menu, buttons, and fonts. At a higher level, these could involve creating blended learning interventions that utilize social media and mobile learning technologies. Be sensitive to the needs of your learners.

As a learning designer, the concept of desire paths gives me an opportunity to reflect about the needs of my learners. It forces me to first observe and then create. The concept also allows me to trust my learners to know the most ‘desirable path’ to their own learning. I know that I can rely on my learners to contribute towards coming up with the most effective way to learn naturally.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Assessing Informal Learning

For March the LCBQ is: How do you assess whether your informal learning, social learning, continuous learning, performance support initiatives have the desired impact or achieve the desired results?

My response to the question – I think we should assess informal learning but I don't think I want to asses informal learning using the same set of parameters often used for formal learning.

Need to assess
To me, the objective of all learning (including formal and informal) is to achieve the 'desired' change in behaviour and performance. Therefore, I want to continue to assess performance to see if the ‘desired results’ have been achieved. And since informal learning contributes a great deal to our performance, therefore, it is important to think about how to assess informal learning.

Difference between formal and informal learning
We are constantly learning - either by ourselves or because others want us to learn. To me, there are two important distinctions between formal and informal learning:
• WHO drives the learning
• HOW it happens

Formal learning: All formal learning is driven by an external entity - an individual, a school, a college, a company etc. The process of formal learning is governed by stakeholders who define the system and the desired outcome. Therefore, the measure of success of such training is defined by that individual, school, college or company. The parameters of measurement for formal learning range from smiley sheets to return on investments that attempt to show the dollar value of training on the other end of the continuum. Even with such a wide range within the Kirkpatrick model, I can’t say that as learning professionals, we have been successful in measuring the impact of formal learning.

Informal learning: Research points that almost 70% of the learning is on-the-job and is acquired in an informal setting. So, informal learning happens naturally and as a consequence of a person motivated and wanting to learn. In that sense, informal learning is driven by the individual herself. The individual is intrinsically motivated and wants to learn and creates or utilizes the right environment to trigger this learning. This kind of learning almost always happens when the individual wants to learn to solve a problem or become better at what she does. Examples include connecting with your colleague over a coffee conversation to identify the right choice in a particular situation, tweeting about a given challenge to seek perspectives or solutions, blogging about an issue to seek inputs and approaches etc. With a myriad of social learning options available, the range of examples is also wide! Since, informal learning is triggered by an individual, therefore, in my opinion the success of such learning can only be measured by that individual.

Assessing informal learning – the individual focus
The question is then, as an individual who is undertaking informal learning, how can I measure the success of the time and effort I spent in doing this learning. Since all learning is a continuous process and not an isolated event, it is therefore difficult to identify what was that single defining moment in the process that caused me to learn. However, it is easier to identify whether my learning objective was met each time I triggered my own learning and learnt in a social environment in an informal way. There are a couple of things that I personally look at, for my own informal learning processes:

1) Degree of achievement of learning objective – If the informal learning helped me solve the problem at hand and/or do my job better, and basically helped me meet my learning objective, it was worth it! For example, if I wrote a blog post to seek inputs about a particular challenge, did the post and the comments from other people help me arrive at the solution? If it did, I am more likely to write more posts and therefore increase the use of social learning tools and technologies to undertake informal learning. It is a matter of learning objective being met – a yes or a no. In that sense, this is perhaps an objective way of looking at the scenario.

2) Degree of satisfaction – Now this one is totally subjective and focuses on the softer aspects of the learning. The degree of satisfaction depends on the quality of learning that happened or the quality of the solution that I came up with basis my informal learning intervention. There is some place for evaluating how satisfied I have been with the learning process and the learning that eventually took place through informal means. The degree of satisfaction depends on many other factors such as how quick, effective, complete, and useful the solution has been.

3) Degree of impact on others – If what I learnt in an informal way, I can utilize and apply to solve my own problems and problems posed by others, I find the learning to be effective and worth the effort. In that sense, this is my parameter to evaluate ‘learning transfer’. Perhaps, I can make it more objective by turning this into numbers – how many people I impacted, how frequently did I utilize my informal learning, how satisfied others were with my recommended solution etc.

There are perhaps other ways of assessing informal learning and I do it unconsciously all the time. Assessing informal learning is challenging but it seems do-able especially if the learning is evaluated by the individual who learnt in the first place!

Assessing informal learning – the organizational focus
Moving to an organizational platform – as employees, we spend time and effort in informal learning. Therefore, it is equally important for an organization to analyze how effective these efforts really are. Instead of focussing on hard numbers such as those typically used for formal learning, organizations should focus their efforts on allowing employees to self-reflect on their informal learning interventions and help employees evaluate and assess the process. Perhaps, the individual parameters suggested above can be incorporated into the performance appraisal or annual learning review process forcing both the employees and the organization to reflect and analyze what works and what doesn’t work for informal learning. Organizations can work towards creating environments that promote informal learning and remove organizational barriers and hierarchies by building informal network of employees across divisions and roles. Organizations can further analyse such networks and evaluate the type and frequency of usage. By enabling social collaboration and promoting the use of social media such as twitter and employee blogs, organizations can increase the reach and impact of informal learning.

I agree that we should assess our efforts towards informal learning. If we don’t reflect and analyse it in ways that seem meaningful to us, we are leaving too much unanswered. Besides if the goal of all learning is to move towards a desirable change in behaviour and performance, it is important to assess and evaluate all forms of learning with that yardstick. However, I don’t think organizations should try to translate informal learning into only measurable numbers and use existing models of training evaluation to evaluate informal learning. I think we should rather focus on increasing both individual and organizational reflection about the learning efforts that find their way in informal learning settings and use that reflection to analyze the impact of informal learning towards increasing performance.