Future Working Place

Informal Learning in the Age of Digitalization

Dr. Helko LehmannSaarbruecken (GER), Dezember 2016 - In the future, smart devices linked to IT systems - telephones, watches, cars, heating systems, machines, and industrial systems - will continuously produce and exchange a wide range of data related to usage, control, consumption, etc. This "digital transformation" will lead to the continuous adaptation of value chains in all industries to modified data. Companies’ ability to effectively analyze data and flexibly adapt to changing situations will become a decisive competitive factor. Accordingly, requirements for the employees will also be in a permanent state of change.

As a result, companies expect their employees to be more flexible as well as willing to train themselves independently and in accordance with need. Classical "top-down" training is no longer adequate to respond to changes consistently and quickly. Instead, companies need to create conditions that allow their employees to be able to - and want to - develop independently on an ongoing basis. This is why informal learning processes such gathering on-the-job experience and engaging in social exchange with colleagues are also attracting greater attention in companies.

Conversely, more self-determined and needs-oriented learning leads to a significantly greater variety of training approaches and career histories. As a result, a high degree of personalization of these processes will be required to be able to shape learning processes effectively in the future.

Because the learning that occurs in the course of many informal activities such exchanging experiences with colleagues, reading communications, and searching for information on Internet is more of a side effect that has no concrete beginning or end, these learning events are difficult to identify and evaluate. However for companies and training staff to be in a position to effectively foster the firm’s ability to innovate and change itself by supporting self-defined learning activities, this is precisely what’s required. This demands organizational changes and often calls for an accompanying cultural reorientation that, for example, stimulates colleagues to share their knowledge rather than hoard it.

New responsibilities for training managers and staff

Although it is even difficult to measure the business impact of formal training, providing evidence of learning activity is comparatively simple: for example, an employee participates in a course and completes it by taking a test. If the test is passed successfully, the participant receives a certificate of qualification. In contrast, to promote self-determined informal corporate learning and evaluate the corresponding activities, training staff members have to become the architects of "a learning company".

For the informal exchange of knowledge among colleagues, appropriate technical systems have to be in place throughout the organization. These include, for example, CM systems or collaboration platforms that allow employees to create and share their own content, but also make the creation of personal social networks within the company possible.

Since self-determined corporate learning is primarily needs driven, these systems have to be integrated as closely as possible into the context of business processes, i.e. employees should be able to work with them on the job. This means that the company’s learning architecture has to integrate the IT systems of the departments involved in the business processes.

In this way, it will be possible to assess employees’ activities on these systems vis-à-vis business data. However, self-determined and informal learning doesn’t only take place at the firm on company platforms. Hence, the training staff has to motivate employees and create technical facilities to encompass the extramural results.

One approach could be to use data collected about the activities for the assessment and management of the company’s knowledge-based processes and departments. This data should be anonymized in compliance with the applicable privacy guidelines. The information can also help employees with their self-determined learning, e.g. in supporting the self-reflection process or formulating personalized recommendations for action.

Formal Learning Was Yesterday: New Pathways for Support of Informal Learning (presentation by Dr. Helko Lehmann in English) Conference Room 8/9, 25.1.2017, 17:30-18:00