Keith Sheardown: You Might Be Training Them – But Are They Really Learning?

We are all conditioned to believe that our people will learn all that they need to know if they simply attend more training classes. We track our training budget. We measure classroom attendance and those “Smiley Sheets” that indicate that everyone thought the training class was a “5 out of 5”. And if the numbers increase we all feel good that our people are developing their skills – problem solved.

While there is certainly a role for formal classroom instruction, most of us will agree that the majority of what we have learned in our careers was learned “on the job”. There are many studies that show that more than 70% of the knowledge that we need to do our jobs is actually learned “informally”. (Source)

Informal learning takes many forms. Asking questions of our Supervisor, our peers, and the recognized experts in our organization. Searching through those rather thick and (often times) obsolete procedure binders, looking through technical manuals, or even emailing (or Tweeting) dozens of people in search of answers to simple questions. We even learn a lot by making mistakes. These are self guided quests for knowledge and they actually form the foundation to how your people learn to do their job.

But have you ever stopped to consider what your strategy is to develop better tools to help your people learn informally? Have you looked at what investments you have made to actually improve informal learning in your organization? Have you ever considered the cost of not having informal learning tools and resources? Are they really learning?

According to McKinsey, your people spend 20% of their work week looking for information. While this will certainly vary by role, and by the experience of the person involved, it is a cost that every organization faces.

Want to ask a simple question of your team that may get you some blank stares? Try this one:

“If our people mostly learn their craft on the job, how are we helping them learn the right stuff better, cheaper, and faster?”

You might learn a lot – no classroom required.